A judge has accepted that a suspected shoplifter was “somewhat manhandled” by a store security officer who was later struck by the man’s car as he tried to leave the supermarket car park.
The nature of the confrontation at the St Martins New World supermarket was at the centre of a Christchurch District Court trial that was meant to take two days.
Instead, after three hours when the trial had heard from four witnesses and repeatedly watched the security camera footage of the incident, 69-year-old Richard John Hewitson pleaded guilty.
He admitted a charge of reckless driving causing injury and the Crown then dropped the alternative charge of assault using his car as a weapon.
Defence counsel Phillip Allan told the jury that Hewitson was upset and just wanted to leave after being approached by the plain clothes security man at the St Martins New World supermarket about 5pm on July 1, 2014.
He said Hewitson had some mental health problems and had been “in a manic phase” when the incident occurred after he was stopped and accused of slipping a small block of cheese into his satchel.
He said the security video showed Hewitson being held by the shirt or throat and pushed against a wall, but the security guard did not accept that.
Mr Allan told the judge: “Anybody would become anxious and concerned as a result of that treatment. That would have impacted on the driving decisions he made at that time. All he wanted to do was to get out of a situation and get away from this crowd of people, and this complainant who had detained him and, in my submission, assaulted him.”
Prosecutor Anselm Williams said the Crown case was that Hewitson reversed his car while he knew the security officer was behind the vehicle using his cellphone to take a photograph of the registration plate.
The security officer was pinned between Hewitson’s car and a four-wheel drive vehicle that was passing at the time. The officer received a crush injury to his leg which required hospital treatment and six months of physiotherapy.
The officer said he had been watching Hewitson in the supermarket, and saw him place an item – he believed it was a small pack of cheese – into the satchel he was carrying.
He stopped him about it after he saw he had not paid for it at the check-outs and the confrontation then moved into the carpark. He believed Hewitson would have placed the stolen cheese into his car before trying to drive off.
Mr Allan told the jury the cheese was never found. “This is not a case about the theft of a block of cheese. The police haven’t charged Mr Hewitson with stealing a block of cheese. No block of cheese was ever found.”
After the guilty plea, Judge Emma Smith said she accepted that Hewitson had been somewhat manhandled by the security officer and became agitated. But he had then reversed his car “recklessly and without any reasonable regard for anyone else”.
She ordered him to do 200 hours of community work, disqualified him from driving for 13 months, and ordered him to pay $1000 emotional harm reparations to the security guard he injured.
She said his record showed “a disregard for the way in which you use motor vehicles”.