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Cellblock Footage Will Lead To "Trial By Media"

Media Release

For Immediate Release
29 September 2008

Cellblock Footage Will Lead To "Trial By Media"

"The release of footage from the Whakatane cellblock will simply lead to trial by media of officers who have already been tried by a jury, and acquitted," Police Association President Greg O'Connor said today.

"Our concern is not the tape itself - the officers knew they were being taped, and always believed the tape would vindicate their actions. Our concern is that media will be unable or unwilling to show the full context from a 7-hour incident, and instead serve up a few seconds of 'juicy highlights' edited together to give a totally wrong impression of what occurred.

"Those will end up on the Internet, and the result will be unfair damage to the reputation of police, and New Zealand itself," Mr O'Connor said.

"The public won't be given the same opportunity the jury had to make an informed judgment. For example, there is no audio on the tape, and the instructions, warnings, and responses to those instructions are a critical part of understanding what was going on and the threat the officers felt they faced. The jury was able to hear witnesses testify to those facts, examine the footage closely, and fully understand what was going at each point.

"Nobody will be told why the officers had to move Mr Falwasser from the holding cell, or the efforts they made to gain his cooperation over several hours - all filmed, with the full knowledge of the officers, but none of it likely to make the 'edited highlights'.

"Police have to use pepper spray and batons every day. It's an unfortunate fact of policing that force often has to be used to do the job, and the law allows for that. Nobody has ever disputed that pepper spray was used, or that Mr Falwasser was struck on the arms two or possibly three times, and accidentally once on the head as he advanced. But the public won't be given the context as they are shown the same few seconds over and over again," Mr O'Connor said.

"Having had the opportunity to understand what was actually happening in this case, the jury clearly accepted the actions were justifiable in the circumstances and acquitted the officers on all charges.

"It is heartening that even Justice Harrison's ruling today, at paragraph [14], echoes the Police Association's belief that the officers' actions should never have been a criminal matter. Justice Harrison says:

'There can be no question that all were seeking in good faith to find an effective means of
processing Mr Falwasser without exposing him or others to unnecessary risk. It is
regrettable that the steps the officers did take have resulted in a criminal prosecution.'

"It is a disgrace that the careers of four good police officers, judged by a jury to have simply been doing their job, now seem likely to be further damaged for the sake of media ratings," Mr O'Connor said.


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