Police have accepted that excessive force was used to arrest a burglar in Invercargill three years ago and have apologised. The man was bitten by a police dog that gripped him for 50 seconds.
The Independent Police Conduct Authority on Monday released its decision regarding the incident in April 2011. Chairperson Judge Sir David Carruthers said although the authority did not find the initial deployment of the dog unjustified, its continued deployment for about 50 seconds was unjustified and an excessive use of force.
The incident involving Blair Taylor followed a police callout to a burglary in Tay Street at 10.23pm on Saturday 2 April 2011.
A police dog handler arrived at the scene and saw Mr Taylor inside the property, the decision said. The officer warned him the dog would be released if he did not come outside. A few minutes later, a second officer saw Mr Taylor leaving the address and he was subsequently arrested.
After being told Mr Taylor had left, the dog handler and his dog ran onto Tay Street towards Mr Taylor who was being held by the other officer. The dog then barked, jumped and lunged at Mr Taylor, who failed to comply with the officers' instruction to get on to the ground.
While this was happening a third officer ran and tackled Mr Taylor from behind in an unsuccessful attempt to get him on to the ground. The dog was then deployed and gripped onto Mr Taylor's upper right arm.
Over the next 50 seconds the dog was allowed to maintain a bite hold on Blair Taylor, during which time Mr Taylor was dragged one to two metres to the footpath where he was secured, handcuffed and searched and a small ornament was found. He was then taken to hospital where he underwent surgery for dog bite injuries.
During the investigation, the dog handler reported that Mr Taylor appeared to be attempting to conceal a metal object while inside the address and that he believed Mr Taylor was in possession of a knife. He said though officers had hold of Mr Taylor, he deployed the dog because he thought those officers were at risk.
The authority found that the actions of several officers involved in the incident did not comply with the law or police policies.
"In the circumstances, the authority is unable to reach a clear conclusion that the initial deployment of the Police dog was unjustified. However, the authority found that the dog handler should have warned other police staff of his belief that Mr Taylor was in the possession of a knife and he was negligent in not doing so.
"The authority also found that there were sufficient staff present to subdue and restrain Mr Taylor and that the evidence does not support the dog handler's view that officers were at risk. The continued use of a police dog for about 50 seconds was therefore unnecessary and an excessive use of force. The failure to remove the dog caused Mr Taylor unnecessary harm," Sir David said.
The authority also found that the officer who tackled Mr Taylor responded without an adequate appreciation of the situation. "His actions were premature and excessive, and were the likely catalyst for the escalation of this incident," Sir David said.
Southern District Commander Superintendent Andrew Coster says it was a fast-moving and challenging situation but police admit some tactical decision-making was not as it should have been.
"It is the nature of police work that our staff are often confronted with fluid and stressful situations that involve people under the influence of alcohol and who are uncooperative."
Mr Coster accepts that the dog should have been removed earlier and has apologised to Blair Taylor for any additional distress this caused.