AOS illegally entered home, watchdog finds

The  Armed Offenders Squad entered a South Otago house illegally last year and arrested a man, an investigation has found.

It follows another unlawful entry to a Masterton property by police last year, and police will now issue a practice note nationally to that ensure staff understand the legal requirements for entering a private property.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority received a complaint from a man alleging an illegal search of his home in South Otago when he was arrested in June 2019.  

A summary of the investigation said police had gone to his home to arrest him for offences he had committed earlier in the week.

When he did not answer the door, an officer spoke to him through a window and told him he was under arrest.

But when the man came to the front door armed with an axe handle, the officers retreated and called for AOS to attend.

‘‘[The man] did not respond to the AOS requests for him to come out of the house, so they entered it by force and arrested [him], following which his house was searched.’’

An initial investigation by police found the initial entry on to the man’s property was lawful, as well as the entry and search by the AOS — but the authority disagreed that the AOS entry was lawful when it reviewed the police investigation.

The Search and Surveillance Act 2012 includes a requirement that police have reasonable grounds to believe the person will leave the address to avoid arrest or the person may destroy, conceal, alter or damage evidence if entry is not affected immediately.

Based on that requirement, the authority’s investigation found the AOS did not have reasonable grounds to enter the man’s home and ‘‘therefore the search was unlawful’’.

In a media release police acknowledged that incident, following the acknowledgement the Masterton incident.

In March 2019, six officers arrived at a Masterton address to arrest a man for an alleged breach of bail, burglary and assault.

The man refused to come outside.

Officers witnessed the man retreating from the door and became concerned the man was attempting to flee and entered the property to make an arrest  — believing they had reasonable grounds within the law to do so without a warrant.

Wellington District Commander Superintendent Corrie Parnell said officers were often required to make split-second decisions to ensure the safety of themselves and others.

“Our own internal investigation determined the officers genuinely believed the person they sought would leave the address if they did not enter the property immediately, and had concerns about the ramifications this might have for other individuals if this happened.

“Our staff come to work each day to keep our communities safe, and we work constantly with our staff to ensure this is done safely and within the law,’’ he said.

Police were working to issue a practice note nationally for staff to ensure the legal requirements for entering private property without a warrant were understood.

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