Police dog handler set attack dog on pregnant woman, seriously injuring her

Police dog handler set attack dog on pregnant woman, seriously injuring her

The IPCA has found that a Police dog handler used unjustified and excessive force when he set an attack dog on a pregnant woman, seriously injuring her leg, in February 2021.

Ms Z sustained a serious dog bite injury that included multiple punctures and lacerations, blood loss, missing tissue, and nerve damage.

IPCA – Unjustified use of force in Christchurch

A Police dog handler, called Officer A in the report, located a couple wanted for a series of burglaries in a stolen car. He initiated a pursuit, which the IPCA ruled was an inappropriate tactic in the circumstances.

Police initially laid charges that the driver rammed a police car during this pursuit, but later withdrew the charges. The IPCA believes the dog handler lied about this to cover up his own wrongdoing:

Police initially charged the man for driving into the officer’s Police car. However, they later realised the damage to the cars was not consistent with the collision as described by the officer so the charges were withdrawn. We believe the officer deliberately drove into Mr Y’s car, in breach of policy, and his subsequent statements were false.

IPCA – Unjustified use of force in Christchurch

The pursuit ended when the stolen car was stopped using road spikes. When the car’s occupants then fled on foot, the dog handler used his dog to track them.

His dog let him to a hedge, where he released his attack dog to bite whoever was hiding behind it.

The woman who was attacked, called Ms Z in the report, says she had surrendered and told officers she was pregnant before the attack dog was set on her. She told the IPCA she is extremely fearful of dogs because of two previous incidents where she was the victim of a dog attack.

The dog handler’s version of events differed from this. Although the IPCA noted that they had concerns about the officers’ credibility, they were not able to establish which version of events was accurate. However, the IPCA also considered whether Officer A’s behaviour would have been justified if his version of events was accurate, and decided that even in that case he would have breached Police policy by releasing his attack dog to bite someone before seeing them.

Regardless of which account is accurate, there is no denying the serious injuries that were inflicted on Ms Z by Officer A’s attack dog.

The IPCA came to the conclusion that Officer A had acted unlawfully, and that his use of force was unjustified and excessive.

However, the decision of whether or not to prosecute Officer A for this was, as always, left with NZ Police.

In NZ Police’s response to this decision, it said “Police acknowledge the findings” but that the decision was made not to lay a criminal charge against one of their own. Officer A will continue to work as a dog handler, without legal repercussions.

NZ Police said nothing in their response about Officer A lying to the IPCA. Instead, as usual, most of their response is about trying to make the officer’s unjustified and unlawful actions appear justified.

This is yet another example of NZ Police’s corruption, where they refuse to hold their own officers responsible for criminal actions. If you or I had released a trained attack dog on this woman instead of a police officer having done so, it seems all but certain that NZ Police would have laid criminal charges.

Police officer punctured a man’s lung and broke his neck, but will face no consequences

Police officer punctured a man’s lung and broke his neck, but will face no consequences

The IPCA has found that a police officer used excessive force when arresting a man in Hastings in January 2021.

As a result of the force used to arrest the man, he sustained serious injuries including a punctured right lung, fractured ribs, a fractured neck vertebrate [sic], and a cut on his scalp.

IPCA – Use of force in Hastings not justified

A Police dog handler followed Mr X because they considered he was driving “a suspicious car”. After he stopped and got out, an officer told him to stay where he was, but Mr X ran away. Police then found a rifle in his car.

Police failed to track the man at the time, but around three hours later he was spotted by the same dog handler. He told the man he was under arrest, but he ran away again. Police eventually found Mr X hiding in a skip bin in a construction site.

In the construction site, the two officers attempting to arrest Mr X both pepper sprayed him. The IPCA determined that this use of force was justified.

However, after he had been pepper sprayed the man lay face down on the ground. An officer jumped onto the man’s back, “breaking the fall with his knee”. The IPCA believes this caused significant injuries to the man including fractured ribs, a punctured lung, and a fractured neck vertebra.

While this police officer, called Officer A in the IPCA’s report, was pinning Mr X to the ground, he began punching Mr X in the head in an attempt to get Mr X to move his hands out from under his body so he could be handcuffed.

The IPCA has determined that this use of force was excessive, and unlawful:

we do not accept that Officer A reasonably believed that Mr X was fleeing or otherwise attempting to avoid arrest at that time. Officer A was therefore not justified under section 40 in jumping on Mr X as he did.

we do not accept that it was reasonable for Officer A to punch Mr X in the head several times to get him to release his arms, even believing there was a remote possibility that he could have a weapon on his person.

IPCA – Use of force in Hastings not justified

NZ Police published a statement saying they “acknowledge” the IPCA’s report, but they did not say that they accept the findings.

Despite the IPCA’s finding that Officer A broke the law, NZ Police gave no indication that they would be charging Officer A, or that he would be facing any consequences outside the courtroom. It seems as though Officer A will not face any consequences whatsoever.

NZ Police had already conducted an investigation of their own and, of course, decided that Officer A did nothing wrong. In their response to the IPCA’s findings, NZ Police merely said that the man’s severe injuries were “regrettable”, and referred to “circumstances where [officers] must resort to using force.”

This is yet another example of corruption in NZ Police. If Mr X had broken Officer A’s ribs, punctured his lung, and broke his neck, we can all be certain that NZ Police would have come down on him with the full weight of the law. But instead we see that Officer A is protected from the consequences of his unlawful actions for one simple reason – he is a police officer, and NZ Police protects their own.

Because NZ Police refuses to hold their own people responsible for abuses of power, we need to reform the law so the IPCA has the power and resources to prosecute police officers like Officer A.

The IPCA should audit NZ Police’s use of attack dogs

The IPCA should audit NZ Police’s use of attack dogs

Today, the IPCA released its investigation report into an incident in April 2021, during which a police attack dog was used against a man who violently resisted arrest for having stolen a car. The dog’s bites significantly injured the man, and he required surgery. These significant injuries led NZ Police to notify the IPCA about the incident.

The IPCA found that, in this particular case, the use of an attack dog was justified. Though in the media release accompanying the report, IPCA chair Judge Colin Doherty said:

Because of the likelihood of injury caused by a biting dog, we consider the use of a Police dog to be a significant use of force, only justifiable in specific circumstances. On its own, apprehending the driver of a stolen car will not often warrant such significant force.

IPCA Chair Judge Colin Doherty

NZ Police’s response to this report was brief, primarily just saying that NZ Police accepted the IPCA’s findings.

When I investigated NZ Police’s use of attack dogs in 2018, I found that the two most common charges laid following the use of an attack dog were “traffic offences” and “car conversion etc”.

Also, 76% of the incidents where NZ Police set attack dogs on people in 2018, those people were below the “assaultive” threshold. Most of the time, they were recorded as “active resistant”, meaning they were pushing away, pulling away, or running away.

Using attack dogs against people who are unarmed and running away is the norm for NZ Police’s dog handlers, and often they had stolen a car.

So, if the IPCA considers that “On its own, apprehending the driver of a stolen car will not often warrant such significant force [as the use of a Police dog]”, then I can’t help but wonder how many unreported incidents where police set attack dogs on people would be found to be unjustified if investigated by the IPCA.

NZ Police has shown a clear unwillingness to address the harms done by their attack dog programme. In their annual use of force reports, they typically dismiss the incredibly high injury rate of their attack dogs rather than acknowledging it as a real concern. The majority of moderate and serious injuries caused by police use of force are inflicted by their attack dogs.

In this case, NZ Police reported the incident to the IPCA themselves. I don’t know how often this happens for incidents where attack dogs were used. Based on the number of investigation reports published by the IPCA, it seems unlikely to me that NZ Police report every incident during which one of their attack dogs seriously injures someone. Though it may instead be that the IPCA either doesn’t publish its findings for many of these investigations or that it doesn’t always investigate these incidents when they’re reported.

Based on Judge Doherty’s statement and my analysis of NZ Police’s data regarding their use of attack dogs, I think it’s likely that the IPCA would find many unreported uses of attack dogs by NZ Police to have not been justified under the law. Considering the significant harm done by this tactical option, I’d like to see the IPCA conduct an audit NZ Police’s use of attack dogs.

Police officer assaulted youth over cigarettes

Police officer assaulted youth over cigarettes

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.

The [Independent Police Conduct] Authority is unable to determine whether Officer A kicked Mr X.

IPCA – Off-duty Police officer punches youth who stole cigarettes

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.