I noticed my phone battery had gone flat at 10:32 at night on 30th May 2016 and upon charging it I discovered a message from Te Ringa Mangu Mihaka as follows:
"I've been stopped by the Police @ National Park and have had my keys take off me by a policewoman who said she knew that I had bad record for beating up on women. I am staying in the car for the night."Shortly followed by another message:
"Think I can do with some help PRONTO!"I immediately tried to ring him, but soon realised that his phone also was not working, and that if he was indeed stranded in his car with no keys he would be unable to charge his phone, or heat the car, among other things, and that given his age and his health and the fact that it was the middle of winter and National Park is noted for freezing winter temperatures, there was cause for serious concern.
I rang the Police communications centre on *555 to enquire about the matter and was (eventually) told that it was true, Police had taken his keys and left this elderly gentleman stranded at National Park, late at night, in the middle of nowhere, with no way of heating the car and no working phone. This action by Police posed serious risk to matua's health, whanau were very concerned for his welfare, and unable to contact him. I was eventually put through to someone who knew what was going on. I said "Please tell me that Police have not left a seventy five year old man stranded somewhere in a National Park with no phone and no car keys overnight in the middle of winter." Unfortunately they couldn't tell me that, and eventually confirmed that this was in fact true.
I enquired as to the reason his keys had been taken and when Police planned to return them. I was told that the keys had been taken to Ohakune Police station because his license needed "reinstating", and then I was told this could be done the following morning if Mr Mihaka simply went to the Ohakune Police station and paid around forty dollars. Apparently, Mr Mihaka had previously accrued some demerit points and was banned from driving because of this for a brief period of time. When that time ended, Mr Mihaka thought he could just resume driving, as a lot of people would. Unfortunately, the government revenue gathering machine apparently requires people to fill in a form and pay around $40 to "reinstate" their license, a fact Mr Mihaka was unaware of.
I pointed out to Police that without a phone or car keys he couldn't get to Ohakune Police station or anywhere else. I pointed out also that Mr Mihaka had been stopped by another Police officer the previous Friday and advised that he needed to fill in a form and pay a fee to achieve "appropriate compliance" regarding his licence, and that he had told that officer he had been unaware of this requirement, which was a reasonable explanation - many people are unaware of it - promised to attend to it immediately upon his return home the following Monday, which was of course the day the officer stopped him in National Park for exactly the same offence. The first infringement notice, issued by an officer who is obviously a much more sensible, reasonable and compassionate person, at Mata in the Far North, on a Friday, and the officer offered compliance, in other words if Mr Mihaka attended to the matter within 28 days the $400 fine would be waived.
The second ticket was issued the following Monday at National Park as Mr Mihaka was returning home. The Police officer on this occasion was not nearly so reasonable. The (female) officer stopped him and issued the ticket, for exactly the same offence, but in this case the officer exercised discretion inappropriately, made inappropriate comments about Mr Mihaka's "history with women", then apparently called for back up from another officer before taking his keys and leaving him stranded on the side of a narrow road, a state highway, in the dark, with no working phone and no way of heating the car, for a minor administrative matter.
Police actions posed a serious risk to Mr Mihaka's health for a number of reasons, including the fact that he may well not have enough medication with him, he is taking several types of medication and the risk of a blood clot was a real possibility if he were confined to the car overnight, also he may very well not have enough warm clothing - he is notorious for getting about in shorts and a singlet regardless of the season and relying on the car heater for warmth, he could get run over trying to hitchhike as he is known to travel by hitchhiking if necessary, he could get run over if he were to get out of the car due to a moderate walking disability which is why he is so reliant on his vehicle. He had been left on a very narrow road verge, in an unlit area, and on the edge of a steep bank which he could have fallen down and died of exposure. He could have slipped on ice - I advised Police that I was Te Ringa Mangu Mihaka's Maori Agent and I wished to make a formal complaint regarding the actions of Police at National Park which I considered to be reckless, negligent, prejudiced and biased, totally unnecessary, dangerous, and totally in breach of their fiduciary duties.
Police responded by saying that they wouldn't be giving Mr Mihaka any special treatment. I pointed out that we weren't asking for special treatment, just the fair application of Police discretion in this case, there was no reason why the second Police officer could not have offered compliance as the first one had done. Police refused to reconsider the decision to abandon Mr Mihaka in the National Park with no keys and no phone, and they initially refused to check on his well being during the night when I asked that they do so, saying that they " . . . might not have any cars in the area."
I advised Police that Mr Mihaka's whanau were extremely concerned and upset about the situation and that we insisted Police check on Mr Mihaka's well being at regular intervals during the night. Police continued to refuse to check on Mr Mihaka during the night and said we should ring back in the morning, until I said that if they continued to refuse to do so we would call 111 and send an ambulance to check on him, and then we would contact the media and have a news camera crew on the scene by the morning to document the state of affairs as Mr Mihaka attempted to get himself out of the situation he'd been placed in without a phone or any way of getting anywhere or contacting anyone. Whereupon Police agreed to check on him and gave me their word they would.
It was like some Machiavellian reality television Survivor type challenge, devised by Her Majesty's Constabulary.
On ringing back next morning I was told that Police were checking on Mr Mihaka and attempting to help him but he kept "giving [them] an earful." I told Police to suck it up, anyone would be giving them an earful under the circumstances and the only "help" Mr Mihaka needed from Police was for them to return his keys, which they were still refusing to do. I asked to speak to the Police Area Commander.
Eventually I received a call from Ross Grantham, the Area Commander. I requested that Police collect Mr Mihaka and transport him to a Police station or wherever he needed to go to "reinstate" his license and give him back his keys.
Mr Grantham called back a short time later to advise that Police had picked Mr Mihaka up and were taking him to Taumaranui Police station. I asked why they were taking him to Taumaranui if his keys were at Ohakune Police station, and was told that there was now another problem. Police required Mr Mihaka to have a medical check as he was seventy five. I pointed out that he wasn't seventy five until July. Mr Grantham said he was "in his seventy fifth year" so it applied. I requested Police make arrangements for me to speak with Mr Mihaka without delay.
After waiting a reasonable time I rang Taumaranui Police station and spoke with a Police officer by the name of Conrad, who explained that the local doctor was not prepare to do the medical without Mr Mihaka's medical notes, which he didn't have access to, so Conrad said Mr Mihaka's own doctor would need to do the medical, and so Police would arrange for Mr Mihaka to travel home by bus, at his own expense.
Mr Mihaka passed his medical test with flying colours the following day, reinstated his license, and we returned to collect his vehicle.
The whole exercise ended up costing Mr Mihaka a considerable amount of money, and Police are still enforcing the $400 fine issued by the officer who should be disciplined for leaving him stranded in the cold all night over a minor administrative matter.
"This gentleman is seventy four years old and had a number of medical problems.
I am unclear of the recent circumstances surrounding the night he spent on a road in his car near National Park village, but regard it as inappropriate that any person of seventy four years old should, of necessity, sleep in a car on that stretch of road at that time of year."