Two protesters arrested by police at the Parliament Protest in 2022 have filed a civil claim against a police officer involved in their arrest.
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster has been named as a co-defendant.
The two plaintiffs are Laura Cassin and 17-year-old Alex Lawrence. The officer at the centre of the case was second-in-charge of the police operation to remove the protesters.
Footage and photos of the arrests circulated widely online at the time of the incidents.
In Cassin’s case she was shown being pulled from the crowd by her hair and forced to the ground, before her naked upper body was covered in a blanket. The male police officer then kneeled on her upper body while she was arrested by two female officers.
Cassin was later charged with trespass but that case was thrown out when the officer failed to show up in court despite repeated requests from Cassin’s lawyer Tudor Clee that he attend for cross-examination. Cassin was subsequently awarded $6,000 in costs.
Lawrence was also arrested while on the ground, with the same officer seen kneeling on his head for 11 seconds.
Earlier criminal complaints made by both plaintiffs were dismissed for ‘not reaching’ the threshold for prosecution. In those complaints the officer claimed both were resisting arrest and the force used was necessary and reasonable, but expert opinion from forensic pathologist Dr Judy Melinek obtained by police said the pressure placed on the head and neck area was potentially life-threatening, and that in Lawrence’s case the use of force was unnecessary.
Civil prosecutions against police officers in New Zealand are rare. The evidential threshold for such cases was ‘balance of probabilities’ – lower than the ‘beyond reasonable’ standard in criminal prosecutions. The most common remedy sought for a successful civil claim is an award of monetary damages – another point of difference with criminal prosecutions, where the outcome for a guilty accused could range between a fine up to a term of imprisonment.
The civil proceedings were filed this week, and the defendants will now have the opportunity to file a defence, with a first court date likely in the New Year.