In July 2019, an off-duty police officer followed a 14 year old boy who he suspected of having stolen a packet of cigarettes. When he caught up with the boy and his friend, he grabbed the boy’s friend by the collar, then punched the first boy twice in the face, knocking him to the ground.
The boy’s condition deteriorated after this, and he had to be taken to hospital because of a suspected fractured eye socket.
The boy also said the officer kicked him while he was on the ground.
This incident was unusual in that NZ Police charged their officer with injuring with intent to injure. However, the charge was dismissed by the Crown after two jury trials in 2020 and 2021 during which the jury could not reach a verdict.
Though it’s not clear why the jury couldn’t reach a verdict in these trials, New Zealand’s culture of respect and deference to police officers makes it difficult to hold police to account for abusing their powers, even in the rare case in which NZ Police decides to charge one of their officers with a crime.
Today, the IPCA has released its report into the incident, which had been delayed due to the court proceedings. In it, they found that:
Officer A had no legal justification to punch Mr X.IPCA – Off-duty Police officer punches youth who stole cigarettes
The [Independent Police Conduct] Authority is unable to determine whether Officer A kicked Mr X.
In its response, NZ Police said “Police acknowledge and accept these findings”. In addition to the court action, NZ Police conducted an employment investigation, resulting in a finding of serious misconduct. NZ Police says the officer is no longer employed by NZ Police, though it’s not clear if he resigned or if he was fired.
NZ Police has special rules for off-duty interventions. A version of this Police Manual chapter was released under the OIA in November 2019 and in July 2020, and is available on policepolicy.nz: Off-duty interventions
This “Officer A” has also had his identity kept secret, though as far as I can tell from the statements from the IPCA and NZ Police, there doesn’t appear to have been any name suppression involved. Rather, this seems like another example of the culture of secrecy surrounding police misconduct, where the identities of police officers who abuse their power are kept secret forever.