A police officer who illegally ordered two suspects be held in the cells for more than 15 hours previously crashed after drinking, but kept his job.
Greymouth Sergeant Matthew Charles Frost directed that an arrested man and woman be kept in custody while he was off duty so he could interview them when he returned to work.
The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA), which called him Officer A in its report, found this was a "flagrant abuse of his power". The pair had no access to lawyers in a "breach of their rights", the IPCA said. "As an experienced officer, the sergeant must have known full well that it was illegal to detain the man and woman so they could later be interviewed," IPCA chairman Judge David Carruthers said.
Frost, who is still working, faces an internal employment process over the incident. It is not his first. Frost was internally investigated after he was convicted of careless driving after a 2014 crash. He was off-duty and had nine drinks before crashing his car north of Punakaiki on the West Coast. He was not breath-tested because he hitch-hiked into town without telling police about the crash. His car spun of the road, went through a fence and came to a stop on its side. When he was interviewed a month later, he told police he was going "a bit fast", had run a half-marathon that morning, and between noon and 7.30pm drank about six beers and three shots of whisky. Frost was convicted and discharged after pleading guilty to careless driving. The police officer for nearly 30 years kept his job despite an internal inquiry. He did not respond to requests for comment.
In the report released on Tuesday, the IPCA said police arrested a woman and two men in Greymouth on May 2, 2015. The woman and man were arrested for possession of cannabis. The second man, referred to as Mr X, was arrested for assaulting his partner. Police believed he had gang connections and described him as a "big boy" trained in kickboxing. Police searched the house and found cannabis, methamphetamine, drug equipment, a stun gun and a large amount of cash.
The IPCA found police lawfully detained the man arrested for assault, but they were not justified in keeping him handcuffed for a prolonged period while he was alone in a cell. Other officers tried to remove the handcuffs but were stopped by a sergeant. "The actions of police breached his right to be treated with humanity and respect for his inherent dignity while deprived of liberty."
Police were not justified in arresting and charging the second man, and they continued to "arbitrarily detain" both him and the woman by not taking them to appear in court on the morning of their arrests, the IPCA said.
A sergeant directed that the pair be kept in custody while he was off duty so he could interview them when he returned at 10pm. From the time of their arrests, the woman was detained for more than 19 hours and the man for more than 15 hours. The sergeant told the IPCA that he had good cause to suspect the man of possession of cannabis but when questioned could not point to any concrete evidence.
The authority determined that police failed to provide the woman and man arrested for assault, with timely access to legal advice. "This was a breach of their rights to consult or instruct a lawyer without delay."
The sergeant told the IPCA he made a mistake in not releasing the pair on bail. "I made an error, in my tiredness," he said. The woman's charges were later dismissed. He had refused to allow the man who was unlawfully arrested to speak to his lawyer when the lawyer phoned the station and asked to speak to his client.
Tasman district commander Superintendent Karyn Malthus said the actions of several staff involved were "not in line" with police practice and process. "Senior staff have been reminded of their command obligations and a number of changes, including the introduction of a station sergeant under a recent restructure have also been made." Malthus said police had spoken with the other officers involved and, where appropriate, had a "professional discussion" with them. Police were "undertaking an employment relations process" in regards to one officer.
27 September 2016
West Coast cop facing second investigation after IPCA findings on illegal detention