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Judge Raises Concern Over Pepper Spray

Press Release: Global Peace & Justice Auckland Wednesday,

14 September 2005

In a Rotorua court ruling yesterday, Judge James Weir raised serious concerns over police failure to follow their own procedures and their use of pepper spray (OC) at a protest earlier this year.

Felicity Perry, Arthur Price and Simon Oosterman were acquitted of all charges relating to the protest against genetically engineered trees in Rotorua.

They had pleaded not guilty to charges of obstruction and resisting arrest.

In his judgement, Judge Weir stated that police had failed to exercise “tact, tolerance and restraint, and use of powers reasonably and properly, [which] appear to have been more observed in their breach than their compliance. The use of OC spray raises more questions than it answers”.

“Global Peace and Justice Auckland supporters have had wide experience of police action in protests over several decades” said John Minto, teacher, seasoned activist and GPJA spokesperson.

“We have experienced first hand police tactics which have too often led to violence and disorder while policing peaceful protest. We are also well aware of the long-standing, deep-seated, simmering resentment of protest groups by the police.

“However the use of pepper spray in peaceful protest is a dangerous escalation in thuggish behaviour,” he said.

Union organiser and climate justice campaigner Mr Oosterman said: “Being pepper sprayed at a peaceful protest is the latest in a series of personal experiences of police overreaction and brutality.

“The judge dropped all charges against us,” said Mr Oosterman, “and at the time of the original hearing said the police had incriminated themselves more than the defendants and he was going to send his ruling to the police commissioner.

“While politicians are busy fighting over the reputation of the police, the police continue to use brutal tactics and restrict peoples' civil liberties.

“My own personal experience over the past year, where I have been grabbed by the throat in an illegal manner, arrested for whistling at another demonstration and then pepper sprayed at Rotorua, smacks of police brutality, negligence and lack of police judgement,” he said.

Judge Weir’s verdict was released a day after the beginning of the inquest into the shooting of Stephen Wallace five years ago.

There, lawyer Ron Mansfield claims police ignored their own procedures and instructions.

Mr Oosterman says that since the killing of Stephen Wallace, the police have considered using tasers as a “tactical option” for overcoming “suspected offenders”.

“The recent announcement by the New Zealand police of trials of “taser” guns, which have killed people in the US is not only a threat to life but also a serious threat to our democratic rights.”

Just last month, police in the US used a taser gun on anti-war protesters in Pittsburgh, said Mr Oosterman.

Tasers shoot two darts with up to 50,000 volts into a person’s body, immobilising them by shocking their central nervous system.

“In one study of taser related deaths the researches found that police used the weapon on people "hugging and kissing a lamp-post", "lying in the gutter with feet and hands flailing" and "walking erratically and blowing a whistle"”

In another case a pregnant woman miscarried a week after being “tasered” by police,[1] said Mr Oosterman.

Mr Oosterman says he and lawyer Louis Te Kani from Rangitauira & Co are preparing action against the police over the Rotorua incident.

“The use of pepper spray is a gross violation of my clients rights and civil liberties,” said My Te Kani, “and we won't be filing a complaint through the Police Complaints Authority.

“Would you make a complaint to a sub-department of the very people you are complaining about?” he concluded.

GPJA CALLS FOR

• A full independent investigation into police guidelines and tactics towards peaceful protest • Abolish the use of OC/pepper spray • No introduction of taser stun guns • An independent Police Complaints Authority • An end to police brutality

Simon Oosterman is contactable and available for interview on 0274-555-789 or via email at: simon@unite.org.nz Global Peace & Justice Auckland: http://www.gpja.pl.net

[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/crime/article/0,2763,531055,00.html

ENDS

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