Officer’s strength ‘reasonable and appropriate’ despite woman’s injury – IPCA

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By Qiuyi Tan van

Generic police

Police acknowledged the findings, saying officers are trusted to make the best possible decisions at the time.
Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

A mentally disturbed woman suffered a torn knee ligament while a police officer tried to restrain her in the back of a patrol car.

But TUSEN Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has determined that while the woman’s injury was regrettable, the officers’ actions were “reasonable and appropriate”.

According to the report released Thursday, two officers were called to the rural Taranaki town of Matau in the early morning of April 18, 2021.

Residents had alerted police about the woman, who was dressed only in her underwear and appeared to be in a mental health crisis.

She had entered a home around 3 a.m., woke up the occupants, and exposed herself to them while making unusual remarks and statements.

Police arrived and decided to take her to Taranaki Base Hospital for a mental health assessment. They believed she was at risk of hypothermia or being hit by a car.

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The woman, who has bipolar disorder and had been assessed as aggressive with a history of violence, resisted, so officers handcuffed her before placing her in the patrol car.

When she refused to pull her legs into the car, an officer pushed her legs in so they could close the door.

During the ride to the hospital, the woman tried to kick the driver from the back seat. The officer next to her stopped her by putting his arm around her legs.

The woman then felt “an excruciating pain”, heard a “pop” and felt her left knee sink beneath her, she told IPCA.

She was admitted to the mental health ward, where she complained of persistent knee pain.

The woman was later diagnosed with a complete anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL tear.

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She lodged a complaint with the authority alleging that the officers had injured her through the use of force and that they had used an inappropriate method of restraint, namely when the officer held her legs in the patrol car.

The woman also claimed that the officers deliberately took a longer route to the hospital, making the journey more than 30 minutes.

But the authority ruled that police were justified in detaining the woman under the Mental Health Act, and that the officers’ use of force and method of restraining was reasonable and appropriate.

According to the IPCA report, the officers took a longer route because they mistakenly believed a road was a dead end.

One of the officers heard the popping or clicking sound of the woman’s knee, but the cause of her injury could not be determined with certainty.

“If the officers’ actions caused the injury, we believe it is an unintended and regrettable consequence of their attempt to get her into the patrol car,” the report said.

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“The officers were motivated by the woman’s need for mental health care and acted lawfully to overcome her resistance,” said presiding judge Judge Colin Doherty.

But it was regrettable that their actions may have caused or contributed to her knee injury, he said.

Police acknowledged the findings, saying officers are trusted to make the best possible decisions at the time to ensure people’s safety and well-being, and to routinely review what lessons can be learned.

“Police officers go to work every day to keep people safe, and part of this work involves incidents where people are in mental distress,” said Central District superintendent Scott Fraser.

* This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald.

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