A 12-year-old needed surgery after he was chased by officers who believed he had tried to break into a pharmacy and a police dog was set on him.
But after an investigation, the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has ruled the police dog handlers’ decision to use the canine on the boy was justified.
The IPCA’s decision, released today, says two officers responded to an alarm activation at a pharmacy at the Te Awamutu mega centre in the early hours of January 4, this year.
They saw a vehicle driving away from the pharmacy and began to pursue it.
The chase was abandoned but shortly after they came across the vehicle again, only to find it driving on a rim, emitting sparks and smoke.
The 12-year-old, referred to as Mr X, was seen filming the pursuit from out the vehicle’s window.
The car, which the decision said was owned by the parents of the other occupant, who was 15, then rolled off the road and down a ditch.
The 12-year-old boy's mother complained to the IPCA.
As the two youths fled the car and legged it across farmland, a police dog and its handler were sent to help track them.
The dog handler told the IPCA he saw two people running away from him and yelled at them to stop.
He said he warned he would release his dog if they failed to do so.
But the youths continued to run, and so he released the canine.
The dog took hold of Mr X by biting his leg.
The youth told the IPCA that the dog continued to bite him for around five minutes.
He was then put in the back of a police car and driven to Waikato Hospital.
Mr X alleged that on the ride to the hospital, officers made comments about how the police dog that attacked him was “the nastiest dog of them all, with the sharpest teeth”.
The boy underwent surgery for the bite, and further investigations revealed the pharmacy had not been broken into.
Mr X’s mother complained to the IPCA about the officers’ alleged treatment of her son.
She claimed the officers left the dog latched to his leg while he was being questioned, and refused to get him a wheelchair when they arrived at the hospital.
The officer in the police car denied making specific comments about the dog’s sharp teeth, but it was acknowledged there might have been “banter” during the trip.
In the decision, the IPCA concluded the officers had reasonable cause to suspect the youths were involved in a break-in and it was appropriate for the dog handler to release the canine to prevent their escape.
The authority also found the use of the dog did not amount to excessive force and that the arrest process, despite the high-stress situation, was efficient and medical attention was promptly sought for Mr X.
“On balance, it is likely comments were made to Mr X about german shepherds having sharp teeth and Mr X’s request for a wheelchair was declined, though we didn’t find that any such comments were made with any ill-will,” the decision said.
Waikato District Superintendent Bruce Bird acknowledged the IPCA’s findings in a statement today.
He said the officers involved had acted quickly and professionally to a call for service, and to apprehend the vehicle’s occupants.
“They were working with information available to them at the time and showed sound decision-making during this incident with the safety of our community at the forefront of their minds.”
Shannon Pitman is a Whangārei-based reporter for Open Justice covering courts in the Te Tai Tokerau region. She is of Ngāpuhi/ Ngāti Pūkenga descent and has worked in digital media for the past five years. She joined NZME in 2023.
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