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Justified Search And Charging Decision In Whanganui

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that Police were justified in searching and charging a woman who had been arrested and taken into custody in Whanganui on 1 September 2020.

During processing, a female officer searched the woman in accordance with policy. Once in a cell, Police asked the woman to remove all her clothing and put on a tear-proof gown. This was reasonable as officers had concerns for the woman’s safety and wellbeing.

The woman placed the gown over her clothing. A male officer used a cutting tool to remove the straps of her undergarments so her clothing could be removed from underneath the gown. The Authority found that the officer did not breach policy when he cut the straps. However, his actions lacked sound judgement and were inappropriate.

The woman was later charged with committing an indecent act with intent to insult due to comments she made to one of the male officers and her alleged actions while in custody. The charge was later withdrawn by Police.

The Authority found the charging officer relied on information provided to him and made an error of judgement by not reviewing all the documentation before it went to Court. However, Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty, says, “I believe there was sufficient evidence for the officer to lay the charges based on the woman’s comments to an officer and her actions that were captured on CCTV footage”.

The Authority recommended to Police that the policy governing searching people should be amended to ensure gowning may only be carried out by a person of the same gender identity as the detainee, unless in extreme or urgent situations.


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