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Police to investigate TVNZ

Written By: - Date published: 7:23 am, July 12th, 2011 - 50 comments
Categories: crime, police - Tags: ,

The matter of Christchurch “looter” Arie Smith (Cornelius Arie Smith-Voorkamp) has taken a worrying new turn.

The story so far. Smith was arrested for looting an Addington home building after the February 22 earthquake. He became the publicised “face of looting” – a scapegoat for us all to hate, and a warning to other possible looters. But this narrative quickly unravelled, as it emerged that Smith suffers from Asperger’s syndrome (a type of autism), and it appeared from widely publicised photos that Smith had been badly beaten.  (Russell Brown asks if the media were complicit in their silence on this.)  A recent TVNZ piece sums up:

Cornelius Arie Smith-Voorkamp, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a type of autism, told TV ONE’s Sunday that he had never been in trouble with the police before his arrest and was “pretty gutted” about the charge.

The 25-year-old, who is fixated with electrical items, was caught allegedly taking two light bulbs from a property that now faces demolition.

He was arrested, denied bail and spent 11 days in jail, during which time he was allegedly assaulted. He was also kept on suicide watch. Police have refused diversion three times after the alleged burglary on February 25 and Smith-Voorkamp is now set to face trial. …

Police say allegations of assault are “completely incorrect”.

That’s all bad enough, but now it gets worse.  TVNZ’s show Sunday last weekend reported the details of the Arie Smith case.  Sunday interviewed Smith (who said that he was living in fear and “too scared to go out”) and the owners (who said that they were not “going to worry about light bulbs” and “we would not have pressed charges”).  The police have responded by launching a criminal investigation into the Sunday show:

At the end of the Sunday segment, presenter Miriama Kamo said the programme received an email from Christchurch Central Police Area Commander Inspector Derek Erasmus advising they were “under criminal investigation” in relation to the story.

Inspector Erasmus watched the Sunday story last night and confirmed the programme was being investigated.

“Police confirm that they are investigating the actions of the Sunday programme in relation to their dealings with parties in the case.

“The matter remains before the court and we will not make any further comment at this stage.”

What was there in that segment that could possibly have warranted an immediate email launching a criminal investigation?  Naturally TVNZ is standing by the validity of the piece and the professionalism of its staff.

I’m not sure what to make of this. I’m reluctant to leap to Idiot/Savant’s conclusion:

So its official: the NZ police’s response to allegations of serious misconduct is to threaten and investigate anyone reporting them. Our police force is out of control, and behaving like the security thugs of a third-world dictator.

The alternative is that the Police are privy to non-public information which really does put the Sunday piece in a criminal light. If that is true then they had better make their case quickly and win it convincingly. If they don’t, then we have turned a very dark corner indeed.

50 comments on “Police to investigate TVNZ”

  1. Colonial Viper 1

    Just speculating, what criminal activity could an investigative TV report be deliberately or inadvertently involved in? Slander obviously. Or breaking name suppression. What else?

    • Contempt of Court CV.
       
      I am not justifying or supporting the police handling of this case.  If it was up to me it would be handled entirely differently.  But it can be a contempt of court to discuss a case while it is being heard.
       
      A textbook definition is as follows:
       
      “This form of contempt (contempt out of court) will extend to public comments or other expressions of views which appear to prejudge the issues to be tried in the legal proceedings by indicating that a Court may only properly come to a particular result, or that an issue before the Court should be determined in only one particular way. Such comments are objectionable as being a usurpation of the proper function of the Court.”

      • Colonial Viper 1.1.1

        Ah thanks MS.

      • Rich 1.1.2

        Has there ever been a contempt investigation where the reporting agrees with the police case? I somehow doubt it?

      • toad 1.1.3

        Can see how contempt may come into play if there were a jury that may be influenced, but Smith’s case is before a Judge alone.

      • lprent 1.1.4

        Yeah, it appears to be a tactic by the police these days to keep things embarrassing to them in front of the court for as long as possible to stifle comment on them. For instance the operation 8 cases.

        But from what I understand the Sunday program didn’t “prejudge the issues”. They stated the facts that are currently available in the public domain or that they went out and sought (like the buildings owners reactions). They didn’t judge. I don’t think that the district court judge would get wound up about that. Since they’re the people who’d have to request charges be brought, I suspect that the police would have a difficulty bringing it.

        It is more likely that the police are thinking more on obstruction lines.

    • policywonk 1.2

      As the “matter remains before the courts”, there may be procedural issues relating to:

      – prejudicing fair trial interests
      – compromising the integrity of the criminal justice system
      – contempt

      Given the poor track record that the media has in New Zealand for fair and unbiased reporting, this sort of scrutiny is to be be expected.

      Apologies and hat-tip to Greg – I see you posted about contempt while I was composing this

  2. Lanthanide 2

    This is only going to end badly for the police, I think. Complete waste of time and money.

    • Frank Macskasy 2.1

      Lanthanide, we discussed this very matter in our household on Sunday night.

      The police have got this terribly wrong and I cannot believe that not one single person at police HQ asked the question; “Are we doing the right thing?”

      I’d also wonder that not one police manager has wondered, “are we on a hiding to nowhere on this”?

      On the face of it, this is a gross waste of police resources. I await the outcome of the Court case with great interest.

      • Lanthanide 2.1.1

        I wish the courts could impose penalties on the police/prosecutors instead of the defendants.

  3. jackal 3

    The Police being privy to non-public information does not put the Sunday piece into question. If the Police decide to withhold information in a relatively minor case, that is their business. TVNZ cannot be expected to formulate a program on information they’re not privy to.

    This is a clear cut case of Police intimidation. They didn’t like the facts being presented to the public and have reacted like thugs. It’s not an isolated incident, but it does highlight how the Police (and justice system to a degree) operates when questioned.

    The Police could have made a BSA complaint instead of utilizing their power to try and limit their responsibility for the alleged Voorkamp bashing. A BSA complaint would be the appropriate thing to do if they’re unhappy with how the program was framed. From my perspective it was fair and balanced and presented the facts accurately.

    Their quick reaction paints the Police force as a bunch of thugs, which is problematic being that many Police officers do a good job without violence and without the need for a cover up and intimidation of the media.

    The police haven’t done very well lately… Arresting and intimidating a Green Cross activist and a Police officer getting away with killing a boy he ran over because he was distracted by a text message and did not have his headlights on full, is not a good look.

  4. prism 4

    I remember reading that some of the felons sent to Australia from Britain were guilty of stealing bread or handkerchiefs (which may have been silk and have more value than today). Given an open hand, the police power will escalate and especially concentrate on street crime which is the most noticeable and easiest to go after. Also they can harrass lower income people without the inconvenient queries of the more-wealthy better-connected.

    The punitive attitude to mini-minor crime reflected in prosecuting someone taking light bulbs from an abandoned building is ridiculous and very scary. That is the main point at issue, and should not be overlooked while police intervention in a media report also needs attention.

    I have the impression that the police in each area make their own rules so different approaches show up around the country. But then, if so, who keeps the lid on aggressive even brutal policing and abuse of their power? One fears the response may be flaccid. The Commissioner (perhaps he won’t want to interfere with the little dictator at the head of each area)? The Minister (no it’s an organisational matter)?

  5. JS 5

    From the Sunday programme it seems that the building in question was a not a home but a building already derelict before the Sept earthquake. The police had not even told the owners of the removal of the light bulbs until a couple of weeks ago and then their main concern was safety as it was a demolition site.
    There is something nasty going on here with the police prosecution and persecution and it is not a good look for the police or the army who also seem implicated.

  6. vto 6

    The Police in Christchurch, while doing a fantastic job in keeping a lid on crime in these uncertain, vacated and loose times, have got their tail feathers up. So watch out…

    The other very real story is the creepy and criminal Michael Laws addition to thsi at the time. You may recall he went out and called Arie a rat or vermin or some such and said the fact that Arie was assaulted by the arresting officers (seen his big black eye? eh?) was good and that more assaults by police, army and the public should be encouraged. That is incitement, as Rex Widerstrom pointed out on here some time ago. Rex laid a compliant with police but got nothing in return (as far as known).

    Similarly, where is the police investigation into Arie’s black eye??????????

    Fucking thugs

    Lanthanide has it right – I suspect the police will come out looking very bad.

    • Jenny 6.1

      vto so let me get this straight –

      You say that Michael Laws did a report on the same case, and as well as defaming and belittleing him, prejudged the guilt of the accused, and incited and supported police violence against him and others. Yet the police haven’t sent Michael Laws a threatening email warning that they are going to investigate him.

      Yet ‘Sunday’ just lays out the story as told to them making no judgements either way and are being investigated?!?!

      In what possible universe is this not intimidation?

      Are the police so confident in their power that they feel then can openly intimidate people and get away with it?

      If ‘Sunday’ is guilty of subjudice, or contempt of court surely so is Laws?

      Some other commenters have mentioned the Operation 8 cases. In the early days of this affair the police were illegally leaking to the media aspects of their case against the accused.

      This of course was all brushed off as a non-event.

      Will anyone will ever be held accountable?

      Will the police continue these abuses?

      If unchecked will they get worse?

      If the police themselves were investigated, would this discourage this sort of behaviour?

  7. wocktu 7

    Army should not get involved with civilians….Not trained to deal with civilians and tend to get a bit pissed off when agitated.

    • Richard Christie 7.1

      There seems to be a discrepancy in the various accounts as to who ‘cuffed and allegedly assaulted Smith-Voorkamp, I was surprised at the claim that it was army personal as I doubt that they carry handcuffs.

      • Colonial Viper 7.1.1

        MPs do

        I mean, ahem, Military Police of course. When Wellington based MPs use handcuffs, well that’s different :mrgreen:

  8. handle 8

    Factual correction: the lightbulbs were taken from an abandoned shop, not someone’s home. The building’s owners had not been contacted by Police at all until the TV show started talking to them.

  9. freedom 9

    It is a simple bait & switch situation. A classic example really.
    Think back to when this story/event actually happenend.

    The Police were getting a fair bit of pressure regarding the lack of inquiry into the ongoing looting by authorised demolition workers. There are numerous reports of couches, booze, tvs, flooring and various fittings being removed in sizable quantities then all of a sudden, when the public was wanting real answers to why this was being allowed, when companies were being put on notice for exceeding their warrants of entry, we got the full court press announcement of a single looter stealing lightbulbs and the real story dissapeared overnight.

    • Swampy 9.1

      There has not been widespread looting by demolition workers.

      There has been widespread looting by the usual criminal elements.

      Whichever way the police look bad, but only one demolition company has been banned for what is being alleged.

  10. Craig Glen Eden 10

    I deal with people with Asperger’s Syndrome on a weekly if not daily basis. This boys obsession with things electrical is typical of the type of behavior that you would expect from someone afflicted with Asperger’s.
    While I can understand the situation/events of the evening in questions and those involved at the time and canmake concessions for all involved,I am really disappointed in or senior Police officers in this case.

    Surely after considering this young mans condition they should have gone with the judges recommendation. I presume the Judge had all the facts necessary regarding the said events. With all the real crime that exists in NZ surely resources good be better utilized than spending it on locking this bloke up again, jeez !

    • Vicky32 10.1

      I deal with people with Asperger’s Syndrome on a weekly if not daily basis. This boys obsession with things electrical is typical of the type of behavior that you would expect from someone afflicted with Asperger’s.

      My nephews have Aspergers, and my son and I have some characteristics of it it’s highly heritable). From what I saw on ‘Sunday’, Arie considered that he was rescuing the light bulbs, not stealing them, which would have seemed perfectly reasonable to him!

  11. JonL 11

    Is it possible for the public’s opinion of the police to fall any lower…..I know I’m not surprised at anything that comes out about them these days and, as my wife commented once “I wouldn’t cross the road to piss on one if he was on fire” (she has a worse opinion of them than I do…..)

    • chris73 11.2

      I still have great respect for the police (if I needed help I’d call the police and I’d bet the rest of you on here would as well) they do a difficult job under great stress and even greater media spotlight

      • lprent 11.2.1

        Oh I agree. And almost all the police do a hell of a good job.

        However there are some absolute incompetent arsehole wankers in there as well who bring the police into disrepute. The problem is that the police do not appear to have any effective internal systems to discipline or kick the wankers out if they stay within the letter of the law or don’t have evidence of their misdeeds. And the IPCC are useless. So what is left is identifying the idiots, those who protect them, and issues in the culture that protect them and raising a stink about it. It isn’t optimal, but it is all that the system allows.

        The biggest hassle is that the real morons seem to congregate in self reinforcing littk groups. So you get places like the Rotorua in the 80’s, some of the own prolems with drug squads and anti gang groups, some of the anti terrorist units now, and whoever the idiots were that thought they’d found a terrorist cell in operation 8 (that they could use it as an excuse to turnover activists throughout the country).

        The latest thing is using the delays in the court systems to punish people that the cops don’t like. This appears to be one of them.

        Tell me, do you think that the police should be accountable for their actions? Or are you one of those strange people that think putting on a uniform absolves you of responsibility for your actions?

        • chris73 11.2.1.1

          Tell me, do you think that the police should be accountable for their actions? Yes but who ultmately decides?

          If you don’t/can’t trust the the authorities to police themselves then you don’t/can’t trust the law

          Do you prefer anarchy to order?

          • Richard Christie 11.2.1.1.1

            Don’t be specious. It’s often been demonstrated that you can’t trust the authorities to police themselves. That’s why we have the so called “I” in the IPCA.

            • chris73 11.2.1.1.1.1

              So you can’t trust all the police, most of the police, some of the police or none of the police?

              For me I trust most of the police and considering some of the police forces around the world we’re not doing to badly

              • Colonial Viper

                Worth bearing in mind that the police are not just uniformed offices. Not unknown for criminal and gang associates to work as employees in the police and pass confidential information on.

                Or for officers to misuse information they are privvy to.

                Bet yes, there is no doubt that our police are way better than say Mexican or Malaysian.

          • lprent 11.2.1.1.2

            My point was that they are currently not accountable to anyone except for the ineffective IPCA (read the recent update of the Police Act), and appear to be unable to police themselves effectively.

            I can tolerate a certain amount of screwups from the police as being an inevitable consequence of their role. But they have been doing it more and more frequently over the years to the point of it looking structural or systematic.

            So they get us and other media looking at them. Hopefully this helps them from getting worse.

            Are you suggesting that merely looking at how the police are performing leads to anarchy? That seems rather authoritarian of you. You’d partner up well with Judith Collins who appears to overlook almost any transgression by the police.

        • Jilly Bee 11.2.1.2

          I really have a ‘love/hate’ relationship with the N Z Police Force – I appreciate that they have an absolutely shit job at times and they have been known to show commendable restraint when dealing with the so called dregs of society and I would not have their job for all the tea in China when they have to deal with a horrendous road accident or murder scene.

          I have been in the Henderson Police Station supporting a family member on more than one occasion – matrimonial/custodial dispute, which hasn’t been very pretty at times and I have admired they way the cops have handled the situation.

          I do recall very vividly a wedding anniversary party my husband and I attended in 1987 of a good friend who worked, and still works for the South Auckland Police. When we arrived at the party the majority of the off duty cops present were well lubricated [alcohol wise] and were very verbose early in the evening. They enquired as to what my husband did for a crust and when he told them he was a school teacher it was open season on that profession – he was a pinko, lefty, communist poofter of the lowest degree, amongst other derogatory descriptions which left us both feeling rather shell shocked. I have never forgotten that evening and we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and quietly left to drive back home. That occasion unfortunately has left a very long term nasty taste in my mouth and is one I shall never forget.

          I really doubt that the culture will ever change in what’s left of my lifetime!

          • Colonial Viper 11.2.1.2.1

            If you think back to highschool its not hard to spot the class mates who wanted to become police officers or finally became police officers.

            Its often not whom you would have wished to, either.

            • freedom 11.2.1.2.1.1

              In the late eighties I always remember being amused when a low key University project was done which showed joining the Police was a primary career choice of the majority of High Schools’ First Fifteen Rugby team members.
              Take from that what you will.

      • Hilary 11.2.2

        You might think differently if you or a family member had aspergers syndrome. This situation of police persecution of people they don’t understand and assume the worst about, is just too common.

        • chris73 11.2.2.1

          Of course thats assuming the current affairs program was 100% correct and that what everyone was saying was true

          • Pascal's bookie 11.2.2.1.1

            People on the Aspergers spectrum tend to tell the truth. Telling lies is something they often find to be difficult, and for want of a better word, pointless. They often tell the truth in ways that make people very uncomfortable, and fail to understand that discomfort, and will tell the truth even when it would be best left unsaid.

            That’s a generalisation of course, but one that’s out there for a reason. It generally happens to be true. I’d want some evidence to suspect an aspie was lying, way beyond just ‘motive’.

      • Vicky32 11.2.3

        (if I needed help I’d call the police and I’d bet the rest of you on here would as well)

        Probably not, if I had a choice! The only time I’ve ever had a good experience with the police was when my brother died in 2004. Other than that, every experience I’ve had with them was bad.

  12. Richard Christie 12

    All that is missing is a statement from Police Association Greg O’Connor informing us that the police actions are completely justified, in fact, coming across dangerous crims in dark, empty, abandoned buildings is nothing but further proof that police need firearms.

  13. prism 13

    The remark by chris73 seems to be what passes for reasoned comment on the police by rwnjs. They find it amusing that citizens need to turn to the police for help even though thy may have criticised some police conduct. The fact is that they and the army have the exclusive right to use coercion and force. Of course it is supposed to be the people’s state, and the police serve and are employed by that state. But the laws that govern us all can be avoided or manipulated by them more easily than the citizens.

    The police seem too slip into hubris all too easily. Compare their attitude to deaths they cause.
    Early this a.m. a woman commenting on her son’s death by a police driver. Her young son had been enjoying drugs and was walking on a road when hit by a police car driven without full headlights and whose driver had been texting.

    An ordinary citizen would have been treated severely. A politician might have been stood down, the policeman is still in his job. I think the police should adopt the cricket code. If someone brings cricket into disrepute that person is fined and more. Why don’t our police set similar standards?

    • Vicky32 13.1

      and was walking on a road when hit by a police car driven without full headlights and whose driver had been texting.

      That’s the height of idiocy, texting while driving. How is it he still has a job? That’s insane.

  14. The actual basis of the “criminal investigation” of Sunday is something of a mystery.

    The police have indicated that it’s not strictly an issue of the case being sub judice — it’s ridiculous to suppose that a presiding judge will be influenced by the programme — but relates to Sunday’s “dealings with parties” to the case.

    This presumably means the building owners. But they aren’t witnesses. They knew nothing at all of the case until they were contacted by Sunday, and are now concerned for Arie’s welfare.

    They did, however, finally receive a call from Inspector Erasmus shortly before the Sunday programme went to air. He tried to pressure them into calling TVNZ to have the programme pulled from air. I’m not sure which is more alarming — that he would ask them to do that, or that he thought it would work.

    The police in turn have questions to answer about the assault that took place during the arrest, and about the extraordinary “perp walk” to which Arie and Michael David were subjected before evening being charged.

    Erasmus has also said in a statement that the police will not approve diversion because that would require “an informed admission of guilt”. Anyone who saw the programme will have seen that. And, indeed, Arie’s counsel originally entered a guilty plea. It was withdrawn only after it became clear that the police were not going to countenance diversion.

    This is a bizarre and troubling case.

    • Colonial Viper 14.1

      Some senior officer somewhere has made several bad calls on the handling of this case. The police better review its status so far before the whole thing blows up in all our faces.

    • handle 14.2

      Could “dealings with parties” mean with Arie?

  15. Treetop 15

    Arie’s suituation reminds me of a case I read about thirty years ago. A worker took a 2 cent comb out of the reject bin and he was dismissed from his job for theft. The two light blubs that caught Arie’s attention are as worthless as the reject comb was.

    When I was age 15 I worked at Mc Kenzies after school and during the school holidays, I was there for 11 months until I was fired for theft. Just before the end of my lunch break I hurriedly purchased a pair of panythose in the store I worked in (so as to look presentable at the shop counter), the manager served me. Just before closing that day I was called to the managers office and I was fired on the spot because of a 4 cent difference in the cost of micromesh (79 cents) and unmicromeshed pantyhose (75 cents) of the same brand. I even offered to pay the 4 cents saying it was not noticed by me at the time. Also it was not the counter that I worked on.

    Arie has been genuine when it comes to showing remorse as he sincerely apologised to the owners of the shop. When it comes to an informed admission of guilt, is this not about being seen as taking responsibility for what has occurred (being on a vacant premise cordoned off with nothing of any value)? I say to Erasumas, take some responsibility for not discussing Arie’s case with a psychologist, because had you done so, you would be able to establish that Arie did not intentionally set out to create the situation he now finds himself in with a police inspector. Maybe Erasamus needs a weeks holiday in the sunshine somewhere due to the toll the Christchurch earthquakes have had on him because his judgement concerning Arie is bully boy tactics .

    • Jenny 15.1

      Actually facts of the story of the plastic comb ‘stolen’ from the reject bin of a factory are this.

      A young island man was stopped by police in down town Auckland. The young man was interrogated at length and made to turn out his pockets. When the police saw the oddly formed plastic comb they asked the young man where he got it. He told them that he had got it from the reject bin at the factory where he worked. The police then arrested the young man and charged him with theft.

      When the story hit the media they contacted the factory where the young man worked. The owners and managers of the factory said as far as they were concerned the plastic comb was worth nothing and no crime had been committed. The young man was not sacked.

      A follow up of this story was that a prominent university lecturer surrendered himself to the Central Auckland police station admitting that he had in his possession, a ball point pen property of his workplace the University of Auckland and that he had no intention of returning it. As the ball point pen was worth more than the plastic comb, he demanded that the police charge him with theft. Needless to say the police refrained from taking up his offer.

      When the case came to court the judge dismissed the charges and publicly admonished the police for their actions.

      Will the judge in this case take a similar stance. It will be interesting to see if a modern day judge takes the police charges seriously or not.

      • Treetop 15.1.1

        Thank you I appreciated the information you supplied. Nothing seems to have changed or have been learnt by the police in thirty years.

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  • Budget 2020 date announced
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  • Prime Minister’s tribute to former Prime Minister Mike Moore
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  • Work to begin on a possible new public media entity
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  • Government support for communities impacted by flooding
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  • New grants for seismic strengthening of heritage buildings
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  • Next level results for game development industry
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  • More than 70 marae online through PGF
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