A former Rotorua taxi driver who repeatedly stuck his hand down a woman's top and pants has avoided prison.
Mandeep Singh appeared in the Rotorua District Court this morning after previously pleading guilty to indecently assaulting a female over 16.
Judge Maree McKenzie handed down a sentence including four months' home detention, a $200 emotional harm repayment to the victim, and the first strike of a three-strike warning for major violent and sexual offences.
Judge McKenzie said, "there needs to be a strong message to Singh and other taxi drivers in Rotorua that they cannot abuse their position of trust the way Singh did".
"People, particularly females, should be able to feel safe and confident when getting into a taxi, particularly at night time."
Singh kept his head bowed and maintained a blank, composed face throughout the sentencing.
His wife, who sat in the public gallery on the opposite of the room, kept her hands in her face, sighed, and cried for the latter half of the sentencing.
According to the summary of facts, Singh was working as a taxi driver for Rotorua Taxis in the early hours of August 25.
At 12.15am he picked up four customers from Utuhina, including his female victim.
He dropped the woman home but she had forgotten her keys and decided to walk to her friend's house to get them.
About 12.45am Singh saw her walking alone, stopped and asked if she was okay.
He offered to give her a ride but she said she had no money to pay.
Singh told her not to worry and was driving her back when he put his hand on the woman's thigh.
She asked him to take his hand off but Singh started rubbing the area instead.
She grabbed Singh's hand and pushed it away to stop him, however, he immediately placed his left hand on the woman's arm.
He then moved his hand down to the front right-side of the woman's jeans, inside her top and towards her lower stomach.
After attempts to stop Singh's behaviour, all of which were ignored, the woman yelled at him to "F****** leave her alone".
Singh eventually removed his hand from out of her jeans, letting go of her.
When he arrived at the woman's friend's house, Singh asked for her phone number, to which she replied: "absolutely not".
The woman tried to open the passenger door when Singh reached over and put his hand down her top for one to two seconds before the woman was able to turn her back.
The woman got out of the taxi, told Singh he was a creep and couldn't treat her like that, and then called police.
Singh gave no reasonable justification for his actions when questioned by police.
He said it was his mistake.
This morning his defence counsel, Erin Reilly, argued the assault was "fleeting and opportunistic" and "occurred in the context of a distressing time for Singh and his family".
She said he had since been to counselling, was doing voluntary work at his temple and was "extremely remorseful".
Reilly said Singh could only pay $200 in reparations because of financial difficulties since losing his job.
"His wife is holding the fort at the moment," she said.
Police prosecutor Roger Schreuder said the assault was "rather more orchestrated than opportunistic".
An interpreter translated Judge McKenzie's words as she sentenced Singh.
He nodded and spoke to the interpreter until McKenzie sternly told him "he was not to speak".
The victim's impact statement said "she was angry and disgusted at what happened", had "lost trust" and was now "apprehensive about getting into a taxi by herself".
Judge McKenzie did not adopt the defence's requests for a community detention sentence.
She said the aggravating features ranged from a breach of trust to the fact she accepted the assault was partially orchestrated and the mitigating factors included that Singh had no previous convictions.
She adopted a starting point of eight months' imprisonment, reduced it by 1 and a-half months for the mitigating features, and by another 1 and a-half months for Singh's guilty plea.
Judge McKenzie then converted the five-month prison term to four months' detention at Singh's home in Fenton Park, and ordered him "to do any counselling or programme directed by a probation officer".
Last month, Rotorua Taxis chairman Ken Driver told the Rotorua Daily Post he viewed the taxi cam footage of the incident and Singh was subsequently suspended.
Land Transport was contacted and Singh's P endorsement, allowing him to operate a commercial vehicle, was revoked.
Driver said Rotorua Taxis took all complaints seriously and were investigated immediately.
He said he wanted all women to feel safe and secure during a taxi ride.