Police admit to failings in arrest of young Māori boy

Police have apologised to the whānau of a 16-year-old boy from Masterton who was arrested last year after being mistaken for a suspect who robbed a gas station two days earlier.

Close up of a police officer at an incident on a residential street. 6 July 2016.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Police said they were looking for an 18-year-old “with ethnic features”.

Peter Hing had just finished playing basketball with friends at Makoura College, when several police officers pushed him against the school fence and handcuffed him.

Peter’s mother Liz Hing said the officer who apprehended Peter was adamant he had the right man because her son was young and Māori.

“The dog handler who was involved came around the corner, and started shouting at Peter, ‘I saw you in the f—ing car, cuff him’,” she said.

“He was taken off the school grounds to a car down the road and he was in the car when he heard it come over the radio that they had apprehended the offender. The detective that was involved asked him what his name was and what his address was. At no other time was he asked who he was.”

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Hing was in Rarotonga when the arrest happened.

“I was shocked because I couldn’t get in touch with my family,” she said.

“I was just worried the whole time, I couldn’t wait to get back home. I’ve got 11 children, my husband and I, and Peter is the quietest out of all of our children and things were going through my head about how he was processing that.”

An investigation by the Independent Police Conduct Authority has found police failed to communicate with Peter that he was no longer under arrest, and was free to go.

It also found police were wrong to leave the boy in handcuffs while they drove him home, and failed to provide an explanation to Peter and his whānau about how the incident occurred in a timely manner.

Inspector Scott Miller said the investigation team knew the name of the suspect – but the information was not passed on to the officers who arrested Peter.

However, police denied Peter was racially profiled.

“Once this incident unfolded there were lots of other police officers who became involved including a police officer from out of the district… the investigation team, who knew who the suspect was, were not the same people that arrested Peter.”

He said he fully accepted the findings of the IPCA, and formally apologised to Peter and his family at a meeting last week.

“The mere fact that the handcuffs were left on him would certainly be an indication to show Peter that he believed that he was still under arrest,” he said.

“That is a failing by police, we’ve worked through that and taken note of that and that is part of the apology. That was a judgment made by police and it was the wrong judgment.”

Liz Hing said it was going to take some time before her son would have trust in police again.

“My son, they were hoping that he would not be suspicious of police after this and they have actually offered to work with him through the school and help him get his license which he was doing anyway and anything else.

“But I know that it’s left a bitter taste in my son’s mouth.”

The officers involved in the arrest have since undergone training to learn about how to deal with young people.

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