Key Points:

Four police officers acquitted of assaulting a prisoner are vowing to return to work, but the police hierarchy say their reinstatement is not automatic.

Sergeants Keith Parsons and Erle Busby, Senior Constable Bruce Laing and Constable John Mills were yesterday found not guilty on nine charges of assaulting Rawiri Falwasser with batons and pepper spray in the Whakatane police station on Labour Day 2006.

The four were suspended from duty soon after the incident, but last night said through a lawyer that they planned to return to work as soon as possible.

But Deputy Commissioner Rob Pope said "consideration of employment processes" was needed before the officers were reinstated.

Mr Pope would not elaborate further, but when asked if the officers would be automatically allowed to return to work, a spokeswoman from police national headquarters said: "We've got obligations under employment legislation which will be worked through in due process."

The jury took 4 hours to deliver the verdict. There were tears of relief from family and friends of the officers, but anger and accusations of racism from Mr Falwasser's supporters.

"We had a white jury... There's no justice in that decision at all," said Mr Falwasser's mother, Kihi.

Eldest brother Tawhiao shouted "Murderers" and "Pigs" as he left the courtroom, and father Charles told reporters he did not accept the verdict. "The verdict was not guilty. That does not mean that they weren't guilty. It means there was a shadow of a doubt."

He said he had not lost faith in police but the four officers had been "vermin".

We've had a court case that explicitly showed those vermin assaulted my son."

Rawiri Falwasser did not comment on the verdicts.

Defence lawyer Susan Hughes, QC, said the four officers were "delighted that justice has been done". They could not comment personally because of general instructions prohibiting staff speaking to the media.

Trial judge Patrick Treston permanently suppressed the closed-circuit TV footage from the cellblock and photos of injuries to Mr Falwasser, saying publication would result in them being seen out of context. The footage covered an eight-hour period during which Mr Falwasser was detained in the cell, and his family had wanted it and the photos made public.

Police have defended the decision to charge the officers, saying the footage had established a prima facie case.

The incident in the cell was captured on CCTV and the footage showed the officers using batons and pepper spray on Mr Falwasser after he refused to be fingerprinted or photographed.

He had never been in trouble with police before, and both the Crown and defence agreed he was suffering a psychotic episode.

The Crown argued that the officers used excessive and unnecessary force. The defence said they were doing their duty.


Rawiri Falwasser is looking forward to starting work again.

He quit his job as a bartender shortly before the cellblock incident on Labour Day 2006 and has been receiving help from mental health professionals ever since.

His family said he had been diagnosed by three experts as suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and was now seeing a psychologist monthly. He was also on anti-anxiety medication and this year spent time in a residential facility for mental health patients.

Until the incident in the cell, Mr Falwasser had never been in trouble with the police.

The Crown and defence agreed he was suffering a psychotic episode when he stole a car.