The Auckland High Court has ordered that a videotape of a prisoner being beaten and pepper-sprayed in a police cell should be seen by the public.
More than eight hours of footage was filmed at the Whakatane police station where Rawiri Falwasser, 20, was badly injured while in custody on Labour Day in 2006.
In June the closed-circuit television tapes of the incident were played to a Tauranga District Court jury that acquitted Sergeant Keith Parsons, 51, Sergeant Earle Busby, 46, Senior Constable Bruce Laing, 53, and Constable John Mills, 39, of nine charges of assaulting Mr Falwasser.
The policemen convinced the trial judge to prevent television stations from showing those images to the public.
TVNZ and TV3 sought the release of the tapes because not releasing the them would “inevitably lead to a view that the jury got it wrong and lead to public questioning of the verdict”.
Both broadcasters showed footage from the tapes on Monday and TV3 reported that the High Court decreed the trial decision not to release the tapes was “wrong in every way”.
It said the perspex walls of Falwasser’s cell at the Whakatane police station gave a clear view of what happened to him.
He is bashed in the head with a baton, leaving him bleeding.
Police said they were using reasonable force, Falwasser said he feared for his life.
The tape also shows Falwasser being sprayed repeatedly with pepper spray through vents in the cell, at one point he tries to block the vents with clothing and at another he drops to the ground.
Falwasser’s mother said despite the verdict she was pleased the tape had finally been made public.
But Police Association president Greg O’Connor said the public would only get half the story.
“The problem is there’s no sound on the tape so the public will not hear the entreaties, they will not be told that Mr Falwasser’s brother, that a medical professional, that a mental health professional, had attempted to obtain his co-operation before this happened,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor said the release would result in trial by media.
“These officers thought the video was their friend in this situation, and it was — when seen in its entirety. However, seen segmented and edited it will be the enemy, not only of the officers but of police and the justice system in New Zealand.”
But the High Court today ruled the reputation and rights of police officers were outweighed by the public’s right to see the evidence that led a jury to acquit them.
Crown prosecutor Fletcher Pilditch earlier told the court the public interest in the case was wider than just the verdict: “It related to how a person was treated in custody.”