Wednesday, July 02, 2008

No place for pepper spray in a democracy

In 2005, activist Simon Oosterman was pepper sprayed while handcuffed at an anti-GE protest in Rotorua. Today, the District Court found that the police’s use of pepper spray was not reasonable in the circumstances and violated police guidelines, and awarded him $5,000 compensation, plus costs. Reading the judgement [PDF], the decision seems to hinge on the fact that Oosterman was taking part in a generally peaceful demonstration at the time, and that both the police regulations and the democratic nature of our society set a higher standard on the police in those circumstances than at a pub brawl. The police were thus found to have violated Oosterman's right to be treated with humanity and dignity while under arrest. While the judge did not award exemplary damages for assault and battery, they noted that

The Police should not draw comfort from this conclusion nor be complacent. Any continuum of breaches of General Instructions in this way is likely to result in Courts concluding that such breaches are deserving of condemnation and award exemplary damages.
In other words, the police need to clean their act up and stop spraying people simply because it is convenient.

There is sadly no information on whether the police officers involved faced disciplinary proceedings for their actions, but according to the guidelines, they should have.