17 Jun 2021

Arresting officer unjustified pinning youth with knee to head - IPCA

1:41 pm on 17 June 2021

The police watchdog has found an officer was not justified in pinning a young person to the ground with a knee on his head while trying to arrest him.

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Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

A car was seen by police trying to avoid an alcohol checkpoint as it drove through Upper Hutt in January 2020.

Police discovered the car was stolen and the young person, (Mr Z) was driving while disqualified.

Officers tried to arrest him but he resisted, did not follow instructions and broke free of the handcuffs.

The car was stolen from his legal guardian, and he was carrying three passengers, one of whom filmed the incident.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) used this footage to review the claims from the complainant (Mr Z) that he was punched in the face by the officer and thrown to the ground.

Footage of the interaction and witnesses described Mr Z in a state of agitation, but that he was not punched.

He was however put to the ground in a forceful but controlled manner.

The Authority's chairperson Colin Doherty said the officers were justified in in the use of force to get the boy to the ground and effect his arrest.

But while on the ground one officer had a knee on the youth's head.

In audio from the footage the youth claims he cannot breathe properly.

He can be heard saying: "I'm having trouble breathing, you better let go or you're going to f**king kill me".

The boy again said they couldn't breath, to which the officer said, "you can breathe because you're talking, just relax".

Doherty said within the positional asphyxia policy it includes a reminder that "there is a common misconception that if a person can talk then they are able to breathe, this is not the case."

The officer claimed there was only light pressure to Mr Z's head to stop him from trying to get up.

"Although there was minimal force applied by the officer, placing the officer's knee on the youth's head was unjustified.

"The footage shows the youth made no genuine attempt to get up from the ground. Therefore, the placement of the officer's knee on his head was entirely unnecessary," said Doherty.

He said this was likely to have caused distress for Mr Z.

"Officer A did not appear to fully recognise the risk that this posed."