Police have been ordered to pay one of their own nearly $10,000 after their prosecution of his alleged domestic violence showed “clear negligence”.
Judge Kevin Phillips, who made the costs order, said police had been “blinkered” in their approach to the case, and expressed concern investigators ignored the advice of senior staff to pull the charges.
The defendant — who has permanent name suppression — was stood down from his work and had his promotion withdrawn.
He had his bail opposed when he first appeared in the Dunedin District Court and only had it granted on the condition he live in the sleepout of a police colleague.
“As a relatively senior officer, he was, in my opinion, treated in a manner that could only be described as different from the way in which the average person would have been dealt with on such allegations,” the judge said in a recent written decision.
The man was charged with assaulting his partner and unlawfully possessing a semi-automatic firearm following a police callout in the early hours of December 21, 2019, both of which were ultimately dismissed.
Judge Phillips raised concerns about the case proceeding to judge-alone trial at its outset in August last year but police stood by their decision to continue with the prosecution.
The complainant, the officer’s wife, called emergency services claiming the defendant had returned home intoxicated and had struck her in the face.
She claimed to have felt “unsafe” but later admitted following the man around as he prepared to go to bed, at one stage using a key to access a sleepout to continue their argument.
When police arrived, the woman admitted she had consumed a bottle of wine through the evening and police were aware she was an alcoholic.
They were also aware that the defendant had recorded much of the incident on his cellphone.
Judge Phillips said it painted a clear picture of the dynamics.
“The person who was clearly the aggressor during the incident was [the complainant] … she was making repeated comments about the defendant relating to his sexual background in an offensive way, and the defendant did not respond aggressively, physically or anything to this provocation. He appeared to be acting in a most controlled way,” Judge Phillips said.
The investigating officers had access to the man’s phone but appeared to have disregarded the footage, the judge said.
Counsel Anne Stevens QC said there were clear issues with the complainant’s reliability from the outset, not least because she expressed a desire to withdraw her complaint within hours of the incident.
The woman messaged the officer in charge of the case: “Thanks for calling re last night’s callout. I’m fine. I wasn’t assaulted by [the defendant], it was me who hit him. I’ll call into the station later to make an official statement.”
After consulting a lawyer, she opted not to change her statement but Judge Phillips said it had to raise red flags with the police.
A senior officer from outside Dunedin advised colleagues not to continue the prosecution and the judge said it was particularly concerning that his expressed advice had been ignored.
“It was not a reasonable and proper investigation, but one that was entirely blinkered in its approach …
“In my view the investigation was conducted in an entirely subjective manner and lacked any objectivity,” Judge Phillips said.
He described the situation as an example of “clear negligence by the police prosecution investigation team”.
The judge made a costs order of $9740 in favour of the defendant, who was still employed by police.
A spokeswoman said police were unable to comment.
Support services available:
• 211 Helpline (0800 211 211) – for help finding, and direct transfer to, community-based health and social support services in your area.
• Find your Local Women’s Refuge by calling 0800 743 843 (0800 REFUGE) to be linked up with an advocate in your area.
• Victim Support – call 0800 842 846. 24-hour service for all victims of serious crime.
• Victim Information Line/Victim Centre – call 0800 650 654 or email [email protected]
• Shine domestic abuse services – free call 0508 744 633 (9am to 11pm) if you’re experiencing domestic abuse, or want to know how to help someone else.
• Family violence information line – call 0800 456 450 to find out about local services or how to help someone near you.
• Tu Wahine Trust – call 09 838 8700 for kaupapa Māori counselling, therapy and support for survivors of sexual harm (mahi tukino) and violence within whānau.
• Hey Bro helpline – call 0800 HeyBro (0800 439 276). 24/7 help for men who feel they’re going to harm a loved one or whānau member.
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