Conduct Authority investigating Whakatane police cell incident

The Independent Police Conduct Authority is still investigating police conduct in an incident which resulted in four policemen facing trial for assaulting a prisoner.

Sergeant Keith Parsons, Sergeant Earle Busby, Senior Constable Bruce Laing and Constable John Mills were found not guilty by a jury in Tauranga District Court yesterday of nine charges of assaulting Rawiri Falwasser with batons and pepper spray in a cell at Whakatane Police Station on Labour Day, 2006.

Authority chairwoman Justice Lowell Goddard said the authority was notified by police of a complaint by Mr Falwasser's family in late October 2006.

It began an independent investigation at that time, which included interviews with Mr Falwasser and members of his family.

The authority also monitored the police criminal inquiry into the incident.

Authority investigators were provided with all relevant information including copies of closed circuit television footage.

Justice Goddard said the investigation was put on hold when charges were laid, but would resume now the trial had concluded.

She said the authority's investigation would review the evidence put before the trial, and carry out any other inquiries to determine whether there was any evidence of serious misconduct, neglect of duty, or breach of police policies and procedures in the case.

A lawyer for one of the officers said yesterday the officers wanted to return to work as soon as possible.

But Deputy Police Commissioner Rob Pope said a return to work was not automatic and police had other considerations to follow. He said police would move as quickly as possible.

He said "consideration of employment processes" was needed before the officers were reinstated.

A spokeswoman from police national headquarters said today: "We've got obligations under employment legislation which will be worked through in due process."

Mr Falwasser had been arrested for stealing a car and was being held in the Whakatane police cells. He was said to have had a psychotic episode and video footage showed him being pepper-sprayed and hit with batons.

The Crown said in court the four policemen had used excessive and unnecessary force. The defence said they were doing their duty.

- NZPA

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