Queenstown police are defending their actions after an alleged serious offender slipped through their fingers – the second instance this month.
Irishwoman Jillian Fitzgerald is furious with how her case was handled after she contacted police about two alleged violent attacks.
Fitzgerald, 24, claims her ex-boyfriend of French descent left her bruised and bloodied during a domestic fight at their flat on January 18 – he threw her to the ground, smacked her head into it and kicked her in the ribs, she alleges.
Then after breaking up, she claims he lifted her off the ground by her throat during a separate run-in downtown on January 27.
Fitzgerald reported her allegations to police three days later on Wednesday, January 30, saying she was too embarrassed to go earlier – and she claims police assured her the Frenchman would be arrested before the weekend or stopped by a border alert.
Two days later he skipped the country, flying from Queenstown on Friday afternoon.
“I’m absolutely furious,” Fitzgerald fumes. “I’m so let down. They said there’s no chance he can leave. They were so slow about it.”
After making her statement that Wednesday, Fitzgerald says police told her to return and sign it the next day when it’d be typed up.
Fitzgerald never heard from police until she called that Thursday night to report seeing her alleged attacker walking around Queenstown.
Police told her to come in the following day – the Friday – to sign her statement.
When she visited the station on Friday her case had been bumped up to a detective because of its alleged seriousness – and she went through her statement again in more detail and was taken on visits to the alleged crime scenes.
Queenstown station boss senior sergeant John Fookes admits Fitzgerald’s statement was supposed to have been signed on the Thursday but it didn’t happen till Friday because “the guys were tied up with an urgent job that took them most of the day”.
Fookes says this delay signing the statement didn’t impede inquiries and they’d tried to locate the Frenchman – unsuccessfully – before that Friday.
“And we still needed to get both sides of the story before we could take any action, or otherwise,” Fookes says.
Fitzgerald says she rang police in a panic on Friday night after hearing the Frenchman was planning to leave – Fookes confirms shortly after 6pm his detective made inquiries about putting on a border alert and discovered he’d fled hours earlier.
Fookes: “Our guys acted about as promptly as they could in the circumstances, notwithstanding other demands they had. And I would stress if anyone believes they’ve been a victim of an assault, they don’t delay reporting to police.”
Fookes adds before the Friday night his staff had no reason to believe the Frenchman was aware of the police complaint or a flight risk.
“I’m happy with the performance of my guys, I’m not happy we didn’t get to speak to the guy,” Fookes says.
“We deal with over 1000 arrests a year, a very good percentage are foreign nationals.
“Each one you have to take on its merits and assess the risk. One thing we can’t do is every time someone makes an allegation against another party – with whom we haven’t had a chance to discuss that allegation – just go willy-nilly putting in place orders preventing people leaving.
“It’s a difficult one and nearly all of the time it works out right … this is a case it doesn’t.”
It’s the second time unlucky for local police
It’s the second time this month Queenstown police have copped flak about someone fleeing while facing an assault rap.
Last week, Mountain Scene revealed Queenstown-based Uruguayan family man Martin Avenatti-Cuna – on bail after pleading guilty to indecent assault – fled to Chile weeks before his scheduled sentencing this month.
Queenstown senior sergeant John Fookes says while at first glance the two instances might seem similar, they’re not: “One was a New Zealand resident with a family here and not considered a flight risk – and court didn’t take his passport either.
The second one we had an allegation about something that happened some time previously and no information to suggest the person concerned knew there’d been a report to police – and indeed stayed in town for quite some time after the first alleged incident,” he says.