Three New Zealand police officers charged over death of man in custody

Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin
Photograph: Kai Schwörer/Getty Images

Manslaughter charges have been filed against three New Zealand police officers over the death of a 55-year-old man in custody last year.

The charges allege that the three officers at Hawera police station in the North Island “were grossly negligent in their duty of care to the victim and that this negligence was a causal factor in his death” in June last year.

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The victim’s family have been told of the charges, which were laid after consultation with the New Plymouth crown solicitor and a Queen’s counsel, as well as a “thorough investigation”, police said in their statement.

All three officers have interim name suppression and have been stood down from their duties. An employment process will proceed, in addition to the criminal process.

The officers have been remanded on bail and will appear again on 26 June at the New Plymouth high court.

Serving police officers are rarely charged in New Zealand, and there are no reports of officers being charged with murder or manslaughter from 2004 to the present day, according to Stuff.

The move comes amid global anger at policing, with thousands of New Zealanders taking to the streets in solidarity protests over the death of George Floyd in America.

Separately, on Monday demonstrations called for the shelving of plans for police to carry guns for a trial period, with prime minister Jacinda Ardern in agreement.

Ardern told RNZ she was “totally opposed” to widespread arming of police officers, but added that she could not intervene in operational policing matters. “No one in New Zealand will claim perfection here, no one,” she said, when asked about racism in the country. “I understand the sense of urgency people felt in response to what they see.”