I hadn’t been to a protest in months. After everything I’ve been through, activist stuff tends to make me more than a little angry, which is part of the reason I’ve kept away from the front line for a while. Of course, being as assertive as I am, whenever there is trouble, it seems to be me who ends up bearing the brunt of it. Not so today.
I went to a midday lecture, with the intent of meeting with an old friend for lunch afterwards. As it turned out, the friend had been in court supporting the Operation Eight defendants. So lunch was a meeting of many old friends eating a nice vegan Hare Krishna meal on campus in Auckland. Naturally one thing led to another, and the rest of the day was spent at the High Court watching the shambles of a hearing into the validity of surveillance used as evidence. While I still make no judgment (now that terrorism is ruled out) as to the overall validity of the minor cases’ against the majority of defendants I know very little about, there are a couple of good friends involved whom I do have faith in. One of the defendants was a friend of my fathers a couple of decades ago, and with him, for me the jury is still out.
Anyhow, I watched in court for a while, listening to police witnesses being cross-examined, and photographic evidence being questioned over and over as to whether the places in question were private or public land (both legally contentious then, but perhaps not once the new Search and Surveillance Bill which I will write more about later is passed into law). Eventually, not being familiar with the places in question, I left courtroom 12.
There had been a policeman standing in the common area outside the courtroom since I had first arrived. At various times, I had seen him looking through photograph sheets of activists, trying to match everyone up. Seemingly, he had had problems fitting me into the story. Perhaps my absence from anything exciting in a few months had resulted in my removal from the “wanted lists’. Fairly unlikely given my knowledge of the people on those lists (including people involved in protests for at most a month or two some years ago). More likely they were using that really old original mugshot of me from when I was 16. Various people were telling me that every time I walked past, he would again pull out the photo sheet and attempt to identify me. Perhaps, seven years on I look a little different?
On my way out of the High Court building, I approached this policeman and asked: “So, have you managed to find a picture of me on your photo-sheet yet?”, to which I got the simple response “No”. The “No” seemed to be a bit defensive though, more like he was denying looking at any photo-sheets in the first place rather than my position on them. So off I went on my merry way.
Outside the court I saw the same policeman looking at “us” with interest while talking on a cellphone. Attempting some sort of “counter-surveillance”, a friend of mine who happens to be a photography student with a flash camera tried to take a photograph him. I was standing with another friend a little way down the road, and saw the policeman grab the photographer, looking like he was attempting an arrest. We immediately ran up to the action to see what was going on. The policeman had the photographer with his hands behind his back, camera still in one hand. I asked the policeman if he was planning to arrest the photographer, to which the response was “no”. I then informed the policeman that if he was not placing the man under arrest, he had no lawful right to detain him. Meanwhile, the 18 year old female friend I had with me (also the brother of the photographer) took the camera out of the photographers hand in an attempt to prevent any damage. The policeman continued his hold on the photographer for a further 30 seconds or so, before finally conceding and letting him go. I then informed the policeman that if he were to apologise then and there, I would not take the matter further. He refused.
I wrote down the policeman’s badge number, evident on his uniform, and requested his name and rank. He refused to give me those details. I then requested that he radio his superiors with a request for them to review the situation and to take note of a complaint of assault. Initially that was refused, however under sustained pressure he appeared to give in. I could not hear what conversation went on, but the conclusion seemed to be that no action would be taken. At that point I made a decision to phone 111 and report that I had been a witness to an assault, and to request the presence of a uniform incident car to deal with the situation. The 111 callcentre informed me that they would take note of the complaint, but that any further response would be decided by someone higher up the chain of command. I supplied my personal details, and the badge number (AY40) of the policeman involved.
Having finished the emergency call, I then attempted to find out whether anyone had been witness to the assault. There was a truck parked on the road right next to where we were, so I asked both the truck driver and another man standing near whether they had witnessed the event. Both said they had not seen anything. I then asked a parking warden a few metres down the street whether she had witnessed anything. She told me that her back was turned and she also didn’t see anything. I got the feeling that the parking warden had actually seen the events unfold, but for perhaps fair enough reasons, didn’t want to get involved. Within a couple of minutes, a police paddy-wagon drove out of the carpark of the High Court and parked next to where we were all standing. Two policemen got out of the paddy-wagon and approached myself, the two other witnesses, and the policeman concerned. The only potential impartial witness left at the scene was the parking warden.
The two policemen who arrived split up, one interviewing us “activists”, while the other interviewed very briefly the policeman we had alleged committed an assault. Then, one policeman was left to interview us witnesses, while the other took aside the photographer who was assaulted. They took each of our personal details, in turn doing a QP (Query Person) on each of us to find out who was “known to the police” and who had “criminal convictions”.
As it turned out, the “senior constable”, Owen Arapai, badge number WS94 interviewed myself and the other witnesses. The “rookie constable” (4 months into the job), Nga Paratainga, badge number AL39 interviewed the photographer / victim of the alleged assault..
At first, things seemed to be going well. I felt surprised that despite my much suppressed pessimism in the police (everyone else told me it was a waste of time calling 111), they actually seemed to be taking the complaint somewhat seriously. The “perpetrator” was for a while left standing by himself looking very worried.
Next, despite my feeling that all was going well, I, the other witnesses, and the photographer / victim were warned for a “breach of the peace”. I told the Senior Constable that if he felt there had been some sort of breach of the peace, he should arrest us (after all, breach of the peace is supposed to mean “we could charge you, but have decided to be nice and let you off”). The Senior Constable backed off.
I then suggested to the Senior Constable that he go interview the parking warden as a potential witness, still standing a few metres down the road. I was told that I had no right to tell him how to do his job. I explained that I wasn’t “telling him” anything, but was simply making a suggestion. I then got a fairly lengthy lecture about how he was more than capable of doing his job without my help. Eventually though (after again speaking to the perpetrator who it must be said looked a little more relaxed after that talk), he did move down the road to it interview that potential witness.
All seemed to be finishing up, and I was expecting a summing up of the conclusions reached by the officers called to the scene. While the “senior constable” was finishing up with the parking warden, the “rookie constable” engaged in some friendly conversation. He also let slip that when they were finished, they had a “separate” incident they wished to speak with my 18 year old female friend about. When he said “separate incident”, I assumed that he was talking about an event on some previous day, clearly not the “incident” at hand.
When the “senior constable” was free, both officers approached my friend, and informed her she was under arrest for “assault on a police officer”, read her her rights, hand cuffed her, and put her in the back of the paddy-wagon. We were all struggling to think what this “separate incident” was about. The officers told us that the matter at hand had been dealt with, and that any formal complaint would have to be laid at the Auckland Central Police Station. We asked where our friend was being taken, and were told she would also be taken to the Auckland Central Police Station.
So, off the rest of went to the Auckland Central Police Station, both to lay that formal assault charge, and to wait for our friend to be released from custody. What a waste of time. We were informed that the “desk sergeant” was unavailable, and therefore we couldn’t be officially interviewed about the assault we wished to complain about. We were offered only an IPCA form to fill out, which we were advised upon a quick call to our lawyer, to leave for later.
We then wandered down to the “watch house” section of the police station. This is where you can inquire about prisoners and await their release. When we asked about our friend we were told that she wasn’t there. I then phoned our lawyer to request she inquire about our friend. Our lawyer called Auckland Central, where we were told our friend would be taken. They had no records of her. I then requested our lawyer phone and inquire at the Downtown Police Station. Downtown Police Station were told that she had been taken there, but would now be transferred to Auckland Central. So we waited for the next couple of hours at Auckland Central.
At one point while waiting, we were told by an officer leaving the station that the reason our friend was being delayed was because she was refusing to co-operate with standard processing, such as being fingerprinted and having her mugshot taken. I requested to speak with her, asserting that I may be able to change her mind. My request was refused. So I got back on the phone to our lawyer and requested that she phone and request to speak with our friend to make sure everything was okay, and to inform her of what she was and was not legally obliged to do.
As it turned out, our friend was more than willing to comply with the “usual processing”, such as formal mugshots and fingerprinting, but had refused to dress up and stand particular ways for photographs in her cell, that had been requested by in her words “3 big men threatening me”. She was told she wouldn’t be released from custody unless she complied with the unreasonable requests. When she asked what law they were supposedly doing all this under, one supposedly said “under section… I’ll have to go find out”. Of course that officer never did find out what section of what act, because no such section of any such act exists. She refused the demands, and was eventually released without complying.
Before being released however, she was forced to sign a bail form agreeing not to enter the Auckland CBD, and not to go near the Auckland High Court. She alleges these conditions were added after she signed the form, and in any case when she was released, they did not give her a copy of the bail form as is usual practice. We got outside the police station when I finally asked to see the bail form, and it was then she told me she didn’t have a copy. I then marched us back up into the police station and asked her to request a copy. They found one for her, and I then requested that the Auckland CBD ban be amended to allow her to visit her lawyer who both lives and works inside the CBD. She was told she would have to arrange for her lawyer to meet her outside of the CBD.
Auckland CBD bans make life rather difficult if you rely on public transport – I had a similar stupid bail condition when I was 16, and it makes you realise fast how all Auckland public transport centres around the CBD. Fortunately, her bail condition only lasts until she appears in court on Friday, where hopefully the ridiculous condition will be chucked. On the upside, she has a great excuse for not attending the rest of the Operation Eight hearings this week 🙂
It turns out her charge for “assaulting a police officer” was for an offense today, so just as the police lied about taking her straight to the Auckland Central Police Station, they also lied about it being a “separate incident”. Personally, I think they wanted to get their mate out of the shit and picked out who they saw as the youngest, most vulnerable of us to arrest.
Incidentally, the photographer thought he recognised the policeman who assaulted him, and upon checking with our lawyer, it turns out he already has a case lodged against the very same officer for a separate incident which fortunately was caught on video camera, and hence not subject to any “he said she said” bullshit.
So all in all, my trying to help the situation and attempting to resolve an assault failed miserably, and only resulted in an innocent friend being charged. I guess the message is to let the police act above the law and hope for the best?