A Gisborne police constable accused of assaulting a motorist who refused to remain at a cordon has been cleared of any wrongdoing.
After a day and a half hearing in Gisborne District Court, Judge Tony Adeane dismissed charges against the constable yesterday, saying safe and effective policing often required swift and resolute actions that civilians not used to seeing, might find disturbing.
He granted the constable permanent name suppression, citing special circumstances for family reasons.
The constable faced two charges of assault, one with intent to injure, after a complaint from 40-year-old driver Aaron Leslie Newdick.
Mr Newdick alleged he was punched and kicked for attempting to leave a police cordon near the Wi Pere Street and Ormond Road intersection in the early hours of March 14. He suffered a significant cut near his eye and now experienced memory loss, he said.
During cross-examination, defence counsel Doug Rishworth put it to Mr Newdick that he had been uncooperative, unnecessarily dramatic and that he was by nature anti-authority.
Mr Newdick confirmed that the injury to his eye needed only to be glued shut, not stitched, and that he had been well enough to drive himself to the accident and emergency department for treatment.
Mr Rishworth put it to other witnesses that the constable's arm actions, which they thought looked like strikes to Mr Newdick, were actually consistent with the constable trying to apply handcuffs.
Dismissing the charges, Judge Adeane said the onus was on the prosecution to show assaults occurred and that they did so outside the realms provided by legislation for police to use additional force where necessary to restrain individuals.
Judge Adeane said the case was a prime example of the difficulties involved with eye witness evidence. Even the most earnest and honest of witnesses could be mistaken or unable to remember when trying to recall minute detail about events that happened during tumultuous circumstances many months earlier.
Civilians were not familiar with seeing police apply force and witnessing such an incident could be especially disturbing. Impressions formed by civilians under those circumstances had to be treated with care, the judge said.
In this particular case, it was clear the constable had definitely used force to restrain the complainant but the judge said he was not satisfied on the evidence that any blow had been struck in the manner alleged. Evidence as to the number of blows and where they had occurred was conflicting.
Even the evidence of a father and son, who had watched much of the incident from the same nearby house, was at odds.
If the evidence had been clearer, he would have still found in favour of the constable, the judge said. The complainant was, by his own candid admission, someone who struggled with authority and who could be easily riled under pressure, as was apparent in his dealings with police and even at times when he was giving his evidence in court, the judge said.
At the time of the alleged incident, the complainant - a logging truck driver - had been further stressed after an accident that was not his fault damaged his trailer unit. By the time he was stopped at the cordon, he had been working for 21 hours and was understandably fatigued.
During the hearing, the constable elected not to give evidence or call any witnesses. However, he had submitted an out-of-court statement, which could be given some weight. In it, the constable denied punching or kicking Mr Newdick but said there had been a regrettable turn of events which had required him to use considerable force to arrest the complainant.
The judge also pointed to evidence of the constable remarking to Mr Newdick at the scene, that he "could have avoided all of this if he had just done what he was told".
A large number of police officers were present in the public gallery throughout the hearing. Many appeared relieved when the judge gave his finding.