OPINION: There were no winners following the acquittal of Inspector Huri Dennis and Sergeant Vaughan Perry. The pair were found not guilty of kidnapping a teenage boy, who admitted having underage sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend. The officers may have walked free from the court last week but their police careers are on hold and they are forever tainted.
After an expensive and exhausting three-week court trial, 14 months’ suspension and two years of career uncertainty, Dennis and Perry now have to run the gauntlet of a further internal police disciplinary process.
This decision by police to prosecute their own presents the average police officer with plenty of difficulties. The option of discretion, and its application – especially when a constable has to live and operate in the community they serve – now becomes clearly black and white. Charge them and lock them up. Do not apply discretion. Do not let anyone off, whether it be for an out of date warrant of fitness or rego. A speeding ticket must now apply and not a warning.
My boy was nine-years-old when he and two school mates took a skateboard from another young boy at a skate park. In effect they bullied him. My son showed very little remorse for his actions so I approached the local constable to visit my house, uplift my son and take him to the local community constable house to demonstrate what theft and or assault charge might look like. As his guardian, I believed I had the right to teach my son a lesson with the support of our local constable. It worked well and I am still deeply indebted to that officer.
We are entering into a phase of ‘social existence,’ where there are no grey zones. Everything is black and white. Everything is recorded and the basic expression of humanity between adults and the care and oversight of their youth has to be referred outside family to a third party, who have no knowledge or understanding of the family, the community or the social drivers within that family or community.
Dennis became involved when an elder from the boy’s family reached out to Māori police officers. Dennis used – or as police claimed abused – the authority of his office to carry out a ‘mock arrest’ to demonstrate consequences if the young man continued his sexual relationship with his underage girlfriend.
Dennis went further, ensuring the teen was escorted to the airport and dispatched to Australia. When the young man returned to New Zealand, he was met by police and placed on the next flight back. Australian police were also contacted by Dennis.
The truth is the two young people were in breach of the letter of the law. But this was not applied because there is discretion – as there must be in all policing – to acknowledge that young people and underage sex occur frequently. There must be a right of police officers to have discretion. It’s called policing with humanity and it’s the way it should be.
The senior police who saw fit to prosecute Dennis and Perry now need to reflect on the long term damage that this sends to officers. The net result of this decision by police to prosecute their own is, if there’s the possibility to charge, then charge, and refer to an expensive and time consuming justice system to be exonerated, or convicted.
I know Dennis well and knew his father and uncle, who were outstanding police officers themselves. Regretfully both have passed, but both would have policed this situation just as Huri did.
The two young people are now getting on with their lives. The same unfortunately can’t be said for Dennis or Perry.