Trial of four policeman to end

The trial of four Whakatane police officers accused of assaulting an arrested man with batons and pepper spray looks set to conclude tomorrow.

Sergeants Keith Parsons and Erle Busby, Senior Constable Bruce Laing and Constable John Mills have been before a jury of six men and six women for 12 days. They are alleged to have assaulted Rawiri Falwasser in a holding cell at Whakatane police station on Labour Day 2006.

The prolonged incident was captured on surveillance cameras installed at the police station two months earlier.

According to the prosecution, Mr Falwasser was suffering a psychotic episode when he objected to being processed after being picked up for allegedly stealing a car. The defendants used excessive and unreasonable force, the Crown contends.

Aged in his 20s, Mr Falwasser had never been in trouble with the police before and had no history of mental health problems.

Four defence lawyers have argued that the officers - with a total of more than 70 years of service in the police force - had been doing their duty.

They used guideline tactics to deal with what they saw as an aggressive and violent prisoner who may have been affected by drugs or mental illness. That did not make them criminals.

They needed Mr Falwasser to comply with procedures but he refused to be fingerprinted, photographed or searched. He was bleeding profusely from a baton-inflicted head wound which needed medical examination. However, it was considered too dangerous to let a doctor into the cell.

The defence lawyers said in their closing statements that what appeared on the video coverage to be numerous blasts of OC (pepper) spray into the tiny perspex holding cell in a bid to subdue the man was deceiving.

Many were "pretend" sprayings to distract Mr Falwasser and those directed through a small telephone portal at the bottom of the cell were harmless because the canisters did not work upside down.

Judge Patrick Treston is expected to sum up tomorrow. The jury, who have more than 730 pages of transcript as well as the video to refer to, will then consider the verdict.

Sergeant Busby, 47, faces four charges of assault with a baton, while Sergeant Parsons, 52, has two counts of assault with a baton and one of assault with pepper spray.

Constable Laing, 54, and Constable Mills, 39, have each been charged with one count of assault with pepper spray.

Susan Hughes QC appears for Parsons, Rachael Adams for Busby, Richard Earwaker for Mills and Craig Horsley for Laing.

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