Policeman who cut off teenager’s rat’s tail ‘without thinking’ escapes conviction
A policeman who sliced off a teenage boy’s rat-tail haircut with a seatbelt cutter has had his conviction thrown out.
Constable Michael Hammond pulled the boy’s hair back and sliced off the 1980s-style appendage after a car chase.
Police were pursuing a fleeing car on August 17 last year.
The 14 year old was one of the fleeing car’s occupants. He was arrested.
“While the victim was arrested and being searched by a fellow officer, Mr Hammond took hold of the victim’s rat’s tail and pulled it back with sufficient force to jerk his head back,” Justice Anne Hinton said in the judgment.
“With a police-issue seatbelt cutter, he cut off the rat’s tail.”
Hammond, 26, admitted cutting the hair and said he saw cords and cut the rat’s tail without thinking.
He pleaded guilty to one common assault charge and sought a discharge without conviction.
He was convicted, sentenced in Auckland District Court before Judge Evangelos Thomas to a $500 fine, and then appealed.
Hammond’s counsel Todd Simmonds told the High Court the district court judge had given regard to “disputed, irrelevant, and highly prejudicial evidence” and overstated the seriousness of the offending.
Justice Hinton agreed.
“The material put forward by the prosecutor was strongly disputed by the defence.”
Justice Hinton also said the lower court’s judgment had some
problematic statements, including a claim Hammond cut the rat’s tail for
his own “entertainment or gratification”.
The Crown accepted Hammond’s sentencing should have stuck to the facts and not relied on disputed statements.
Hammond engaged in “intentional, but one-off offending,” Justice Hinton said.
“I would categorise it as moderate-level offending.”
But she added: “Offending undertaken by a sworn police officer on a member of the public in the execution of that police officer’s duty is a significant aggravating factor.”
Hammond had no previous convictions and Justice Hinton said he was remorseful.
“He has hopefully learnt a very significant lesson. He has written a letter of full apology to the victim.”
The High Court judge added: “Conviction or no conviction, the appellant could still face dismissal from his employer, who knows about the offence.”
The appeal was allowed, Hammond’s conviction and sentence set aside and the application for discharge without conviction granted.
Superintendent Karyn Malthus, Auckland City District Commander, said police would not be appealing Justice Hinton’s decision.
Hammond was still a police employee.
“This matter remains the subject of a separate employment investigation which remains ongoing,” Malthus added.
She said while that investigation continued, police weren’t in a position to make further comment.