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Pepper-sprayed protester seeking $50k's court day


Monday 24 June, 2008 9.40am

Pepper-sprayed protester seeking $50k has final day in court

Aucklander Simon Oosterman, who is seeking $50k in compensation for being pepper-sprayed at a GE-Free protest in 2005, is having his final day in the Rotorua District Court today, June 24 2008 at 2.15pm.

In 2005 he was pepper-sprayed at a GE-free protest against genetically engineered pine trees grown at the Forestry Research Institute on Sala St in Rotorua.

Mr Oosterman, the first New Zealander recorded as being pepper spray at a protest, says he was sprayed while “passively resisting” police after going to the aid of another protester he believed police were being “overly rough with”.

Mr Oosterman was arrested and charged with obstruction but was later acquitted in court after pleading not guilty.

In the criminal case, the District Court Judge stated that the use of pepper spray on Mr Oosterman was a cause for real concern and found that officers had “failed to exercise tact, tolerance and restraint” in policing the demonstration.

The Police General Instructions A275(3) states that OC Spray is not to be carried by members rostered for duty at demonstrations unless specifically authorized by a District Commander.

In the civil case earlier this year the police witnesses admitted that the General Instruction A275(3) had not been complied with but the police argued that the general instruction did not apply to the officer as he was not rostered for protest duty at the time.

Mr Oosterman says: “This argument and attitude betrays the police’s view on the importance of freedom of expression and makes a mockery of the Bill of Rights.”

The Rotorua police had known for weeks about the protest, had liaised with the protesters and had officers on standby because outside main city centres there are not the numbers for police to be especially rostered for protest duty.

Mr Oosterman was pepper sprayed at point blank range when police do not use it closer than a metre in training.

He says he suffered an excruciating headache that continued for more than a week after the spraying.

Although Mr Oosterman is seeking $50,000 in compensation he says he is not after money but a ruling that shows the police need to “ get real” on the Bill of Rights.

John Minto, Spokesperson for Global Peace and Justice Auckland, said: “When the police aren’t following their own procedures with pepper spray we should be seriously concerned at the possible introduction of the deadly 50,000 volt Taser.”

The Rotorua District Court Judge who original dealt with the matter sent a copy of the case to the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) which found that the officer wasn’t in the wrong even though the General Instructions say that pepper spray should not be used on passive resistance.

Importantly the PCA said nothing about the General Instruction banning pepper spray at protests.

Mr Oosterman says that he has yet to receive an apology or “courtesy” phone call from the police about the matter.


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