Two young men. Two punch-ups. Two court cases. Two very different outcomes.
In one case, 19-year-old Nikolas James Posa Delegat, the son of rich-lister Jim Delegat, repeatedly punched a female police officer in the face to the point where she lost consciousness and was sentenced to 300 hours of community service and a $5000 fine.
In the other, 19-year-old Hautahi Kingi, a star student on a scholarship to Victoria University, attacked a male friend who had recently taken up with his girlfriend, causing a bloody nose and a cut lip, and was sentenced to five months in prison.
One had brown skin. The other was a white boy from a very powerful family.
Let's lay out the facts bare. Nikolas Delegat beat a woman until she was unconscious, and then continued to punch her after she'd passed out. In my book, anyone who thumps a woman until she blacks out and continues hitting her afterwards is nothing but a thug who deserves to feel the full wrath of the law.
Delegat, however, denied any wrongdoing until 15 months after the offences took place, when he pleaded guilty to lesser charges than had originally been brought against him. As Constable Alana Kane, the woman he assaulted, remarked in her victim impact statement, it took until that guilty plea for Delegat to seek any kind of restorative justice process with his victim.
Hautahi Kingi, who has since attained a PhD from Cornell University in the United States, attacked a former friend who suffered relatively minor injuries, had the book thrown at him and very nearly ended up in prison. Thankfully, an appeal took into account the relatively minor injuries his victim had sustained and the fact that Kingi had taken complete responsibility for the assault - writing letters of apology to the teachers and students of Wanganui Collegiate who had witnessed the attack, calling the headmaster to apologise, completing a restorative justice programme with his victim and his family, emptying his bank account to pay reparations and completing 250 hours of community service.
His conviction was eventually quashed, thanks to Queen's Counsel Colin Curruthers' pro bono representation and the measured decision of Justice Simon France.
In one case, a young man accepted complete responsibility for his transgressions and did everything in his power to attempt to make amends. In the other, a young man used every legal avenue possible, in a case that bounced between courts in Auckland and Dunedin over multiple rounds of legal wrangling, to try to suppress his identity and deny wrongdoing.
Hautahi Kingi is far from the only Maori or Pasifika man to face jail time for assault. Data has long shown that Maori offenders are more likely to be prosecuted than Pakeha offenders for the same crimes. Dame Tariana Turia demanded an explanation for the discrepancy in 2013, noting that bias against Maori had first been identified 30 years ago. Realistically, Kingi is probably the tip of the iceberg.
It's a situation that hasn't escaped the attention of Police Association President Greg O'Connor. Speaking to Paul Henry on Tuesday, O'Connor slammed the sentence handed to Delegat. "Had we been talking about a young Polynesian man from south Dunedin, then I'm sure we would have been talking [about] whether it was 12 months or six months, or maybe even longer," he said.
Constable Alana Kane was simply doing her job when she happened upon Delegat as he attacked a Campus Watch officer, throwing punches at him and eventually kneeing him in the face. As a police officer, Constable Kane is tasked with keeping her community safe, and Delegat posed a violent threat to that community. She was treated in hospital for 15 hours and spent two months off work after Delegat attacked her in an apparent "bad decision in the heat of the moment". Other bad decisions included punching a hole in a security window, trying to kick and headbutt arresting police officers and verbally abusing officers at the Dunedin Central Police Station.
I made quite a few bad decisions in the heat of the moment when I was 19. None of them involved beating someone so badly that it took them more than 18 months to recover.
Nikolas Delegat's sentence is an absolute joke. It sends the message to young men of means that they can beat women black and blue, past the point of unconsciousness, and get off with a slap on the hand. Delegat's lawyers are considering an appeal, so even the slap on the hand may yet be rendered redundant - provided the accused has a family that can afford to throw money at a fancy lawyer.
Since the assault, Delegat has reportedly sworn off alcohol and offered to help the police take on Otago University's drinking culture. The gesture seems somewhat incongruous to me. As anyone who has been in Dunedin during a weekend can testify, there's little doubt that Otago students engage in binge-drinking behaviour, but Delegat's conviction arises not out of drunkenness, but serious violence. He wasn't arrested for being drunk and disorderly. Many, many university students have been drunk over the years (myself included), but few have brutalised a police officer. Constable Kane's partner, Constable Keith Early, described the assault in evidential briefs: Delegat was "absolutely smashing her", he said. Alcohol consumption is not an excuse for base savagery.
Frankly, there is no excuse for such behaviour.
I hope that Delegat uses his 300 hours of community service to think long and hard about the second chance he's been given. Had it not been for an expensive lawyer, a lenient judge, and a system that has been statistically shown to favour people like him, his fate could've been markedly different.