23 Sep 2016

Hair-pulling officer acted 'unprofessionally', police inquiry finds

8:31 pm on 23 September 2016

Police say they remain proud of the actions of officers during February's Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) protest, despite an officer being found to have acted "unprofessionally" by dragging a protester by her hair.

TPP protesters block the entrance to Auckland's motorways at the top of Hobson Street

A group of anti-TPP protesters block the entrance to the Auckland motorway at the top of Hobson Street in February. Photo: RNZ / Murielle Baker

Olive McRae of Dunedin was pulled by her hair from where she sat with other protesters blocking an Auckland motorway ramp during the protest.

Video footage shows a sergeant telling the constable, who was untrained in crowd control, to stop - but he did not.

Several officers immediately complained about him to the police's professional conduct unit.

The next day, Auckland District Police Commander Richard Chambers was reported in the New Zealand Herald as saying the hair pulling was necessary and that officers had demonstrated "outstanding professionalism".

And, in a statement to RNZ today, police said they had to deal with a large group of organised protesters intent on disrupting the inner city, and had to act swiftly for everyone's safety.

"Police remain proud of the actions of their officers and note that no arrests were made," a spokesperson said.

But an investigation by Auckland Senior Sergeant Alan Rowland found the hair pulling was unprofessional and not an approved tactic.

Mr Rowland wrote: "Sergeant Stainton says that he approached Constable [redacted] and instructed him to release the protester's hair, remove her correctly, move his ASP baton out of sight and move away from the area.

"Sergeant Stainton does not record any acknowledgement [by the constable] of his instructions."

The constable said he could not hear because he was still wearing his police motorbike helmet.

And he told the inquiry he had never been trained in crowd control in New Zealand or Britain.

"Police now regard your complaint as upheld, with an acknowledgement that the constable acted unprofessionally in attempting to remove you from the motorway on-ramp by pulling on your hair," Auckland professional conduct manager Inspector Tony Wakelin wrote to Ms McRae on 10 August.

Police apologised to Ms McRae, but said the hair pulling was not criminally excessive.

"However, the officer did use unnecessary force which were not approved tactics. A subsequent employment investigation found that the officer breached the Code of Conduct."

Protester wanted assault charge laid

Ms McRae said she was shocked that police said they were still proud of their officers' actions.

"On the one hand, they said at the time that everybody acted, within the police, professionally and outstandingly, and then they are saying that, obviously, he didn't act professionally and it was out of order, but not criminally out of order, and now they are flipping back and saying they are proud and happy about the officer's conduct - I mean, which is it?"

She had wanted a charge of assault laid against the officer, she said.

"I think the police need to take this matter seriously so those rights of protest can be protected and we know there's not going to be rogue thugs running around dragging people by their hair."

Police remove a TPP protester from an Auckland motorway

Police remove a TPP protester from a motorway in the central city. Photo: RNZ / Murielle Baker

TPP protesters near the Cook Street onramp

TPP protesters near the Cook Street on-ramp. Photo: RNZ / Murielle Baker

Auckland iwi reps getting ready to lead the march down Queen Street.

Auckland iwi representatives get ready to lead the march down Queen Street. Photo: RNZ / Mohamed Hassan