A judge has slammed as “reckless” and “woeful” a Queenstown cop’s handling of a cannabis bust.
The bungled case, which was thrown out of court last week, has prompted an internal police inquiry.
The judge’s scathing judgment means others caught in the police probe might be able to challenge their convictions.
Judge Bernadette Farnan dismissed all charges against Christian Michael Pearce, 23, and James Robert Neill, 29, for allegedly selling cannabis after a pre-trial hearing in Queenstown’s district court last week.
In her judgment, Farnan said constable Jason Reid overstated information, which she found to be “misleading”, labelling his actions “reckless” and “close” to bad faith.
Reid, who has undertaken detective training, described some of his actions during the case - which snowballed into a larger investigation - as “sloppy”.
But Farnan labelled his performance as “woeful”.
“I have grave concerns regarding the management of this inquiry by constable Reid,” Farnan’s judgment said.
“I am not able to reach any conclusion as to whether he was deliberately dishonest.
“However, I have formed the view that he was reckless and that he himself admitted he was sloppy in the way in which he conducted this inquiry.
“It is my view that there has been improperly obtained evidence in this case … it is my view that I am able to infer bad faith on behalf of constable Reid in that his record keeping has not met the standard that one would expect of a police officer.
“Whether that was a result of deliberate behaviour on his behalf, I am unable to determine, but it is clear that such an inquiry … was not an inquiry within his normal course of work.”
Farnan’s scathing judgment means others caught in the police probe might be able to challenge their convictions.
On July 3, Reid and constable Zoe Albon were called to an eviction at SIT’s student apartments in Frankton.
While there Reid noticed a snap lock bag in one man’s back pocket.
He removed the bag without a search warrant - the judge found this to be illegal.
Farnan said Reid intended to deceive sergeant Tracy Haggart to secure that person, who has name suppression, a pre-charge warning for cannabis possession. That was despite drug paraphernalia, including utensils, being found.
Reid denied deliberately withholding information from Haggart but Farnan found his actions were “reckless”.
After the pre-charge warning was granted, the person provided Reid with details of “suppliers” in the resort, which led to the applications for ‘production orders’.
Through those orders, police identified others charged with the sale and supply of cannabis in the resort. Many were British, some of whom were deported after serving their sentences.
Pearce has indicated he will formally complain to the Independent Police Complaints Authority. He and Neill will also pursue costs.
Neill’s lawyer Kate McHugh says Farnan’s judgment provides relief for her client who felt “persecuted”.
“In a small community like Queenstown I suppose that’s been very difficult for him.”
She says fighting existing drug convictions will be “tricky”.