NZ Police have been ordered to pay tens of thousands of dollars to a truck driver they blamed for a crash caused by an off-duty cop.
And the force has launched an investigation into police action after a judge said there was a perception the prosecution was "tarnished with bias". Judge Gerard Winter dismissed charges of careless driving against Graham Hohepa Anderson, saying the police "acted negligently" in prosecuting him.
The charges stemmed from a crash in October 2013. Anderson was carrying material in his truck to and from a construction site in Sandstone Rd, Whitford.
Court documents obtained by the Herald on Sunday show off-duty police officer Mark Hansen was "tailgating" two cars behind Anderson's truck.
Judge Winter said in his judgment Hansen "zoomed" past them accelerating to "110km/h if not slightly faster".
Hansen, who was in an "impatient mood", crossed the centre yellow line to pass the truck then clipped it as he tried to veer back on to the left side of the road, Judge Winter ruled.
Sergeant Mile Tusevljak investigated the accident and served as an expert witness for the prosecution. But he was accused by the judge of "particularly poor and unreasonable conduct".
The judge found Tusevljak:
- Had not read or referenced any of Anderson's statements.
- Failed to take into account Hansen had tailgated and overtaken two other cars at speed while he had a clear view of the truck ahead of him.
- Had not prepared a scale plan of the accident scene and had made incorrect calculations.
- Had never heard of a Code of Conduct for Expert Witnesses where his obligation was to disclose any incomplete or inaccurate evidence.
In a judgment on costs released in March, Judge Winter said: "I find [Tusevljak] was negligent in preparing his reconstruction of the crash dynamic and thereby produced a completely flawed analysis of the accident's cause." He went on to say the fact the "victim" was an off-duty officer provided the "regrettable but available perception that the investigation and prosecution was tarnished with bias".
He stopped short of saying police unreasonably pursued the case out of sympathy for a colleague because "there is insufficient evidence for me to draw that logical inference".
He ordered police to pay 75 per cent of about $50,000 in legal expenses, but Anderson's legal team will try to recover all costs.
Anderson's lawyer, Frank Hogan, said it was an unusually large sum in costs to be awarded in a district court.
"I've been in practice for over 40 years and I've secured costs on a number of occasions.
"They're reasonably rare, but this is the highest I have secured in any case," he said.
Hogan described it as a horrendous crash caused by a policeman performing an overtaking manoeuvre in his private car.
He said that he tried to reason with the prosecution not to pursue the crash charges, but they had persisted.
"At the end of the day, fortunately, we have a very good police force who by and large act in a very independent capable, unbiased fashion, but on this occasion, for some reason or other, they took the eye off the ball and slipped up big time."
A police spokesman said a formal review of the crash investigation was being carried out at district and national level. Part of that investigation would include an employment investigation.
"Both officers are currently employed as police officers but as the investigation is under way it's not appropriate for us to comment further," the spokesman said.
Judge Winter also told Anderson his company, Tebo Services, should pursue a civil suit against police to recover any other costs lost due to the truck being impounded and loss of business. Anderson is in talks with his lawyer to decide whether to pursue compensation.