Rotorua policewoman Melissa-Mae Ruru, champion boxer Tyson Sykes sentenced

A Rotorua police officer and a champion boxer found guilty of cheating the justice system have been sentenced to home detention.

Melissa-Mae Ruru, 36, and Tyson Sykes, 33, were found guilty last year by a jury of defeating the course of justice by submitting false community work records that gave Sykes an “easy ride” to complete a court-ordered sentence.

Ruru was also found guilty of two separate forgery charges after the police officer signed Sykes’ signature on community work forms and an Olympic form.

Ruru, who has resigned as a police officer since being convicted, was sentenced today

in the Rotorua District Court to five months’ home detention and Sykes was sentenced to three months’ home detention. Sykes’ sentence was significantly reduced given time already spent in custody and on electronic bail.

Their offending came to light after police searched Sykes’ Steeles Lane home in 2018 finding cannabis, a firearm and ammunition. Sykes was sentenced separately on those charges. Police took Sykes’ phone and discovered hundreds of damning Facebook messages revealing his offending with Ruru.

The messaged included statements from Ruru such as: “Hey if probation asks, you did six hours on Saturday” and asking Sykes if he was attending boxing fights to “just show your face” so she could put him down for community work hours.

Relating to the forgery charges, she sent messages such as: “If anyone rings, you just signed this form in front of me, it’s an athlete agreement form. Just say you signed the form.” She then sent a photo of the form with a signature next to Sykes’ name, to which he replied: “Ok mate, I trust you”.

Messages from Ruru to Sykes about community work records included: “I’m just going to sign them for you if that’s sweet”, with Sykes replying “Sing (sic) away … “.

The pair were both talented sportspeople and had hopes of making it to the Rio Olympics – Ruru in volleyball and Sykes in boxing.

Ruru was Sykes’ boxing manager and friend as well as his approved “sponsor”, able to sign off his community work for sentences for driving while disqualified.

Community Corrections agreed the work could be carried out at the Sykes family boxing gym, where Ruru volunteered as gym manager. Sykes was to do jobs at the gym and mentor young boxers.

The jury found the pair not guilty on a joint charge of defeating the course of justice in 2016, also relating to submitting false community work records.

The convictions were a fall from grace for Ruru who was a national and regional sporting representative in several codes and was named the Police Sportsperson of the Year in 2012.

She was also considered a police “poster girl”, fronting police media campaigns and appearing on television series Women in Blue.

Ruru’s lawyer, Bill Lawson, told Judge Phillip Cooper during sentencing today, the mother of two small children had struggled to find employment in management roles given the nature of her convictions.

Judge Phillip Cooper said Ruru’s actions were outside of her police role which meant she hadn’t undermined the police. However he said given her role as a police officer, there was a breach of trust.

Judge Cooper noted shortcomings in the way the community work sentences were set up. He said Community Corrections was left with the impression the boxing gym offered a youth programme. Although it catered for young people, there was no structured youth programme in place.

The judge noted the favourable references for Sykes, including one from his partner who he had two children with, aged 5 and 4 months. She said Sykes had changed and now showed a level of maturity and commitment to his family.

Crown prosecutor Hayley Sheridan said argued against a defence suggestion that Ruru should be given community detention.

She said the justice system had been damaged as there was an expectation sentences would be carried out properly.

Sheridan said Sykes’ sentence had been undermined in a “very significant way” and it couldn’t be known how much work was actually completed.

Sheridan said Ruru shouldn’t be given a full reduction for her good character because it was her position as a police officer that allowed her to offend.

Lawson said it would be unfair to look at the failures of Ruru without looking at the benefits Ruru provided to the community.

Lawson argued more community work hours were done than required as the work they did with young boxers and the community didn’t stop when the “community work clock stopped ticking”.

Sykes’s lawyer, Tim Braithwaite, said Sykes’ character had changed since he had been struggling through the justice system.

“He is a different man completely to what he was when this all started. He is a changed man completely and some credit for that should be given to his co-offender.”

Sykes and Ruru declined to comment to media after the sentencing.

The two-week trial included defence evidence from Rotorua-born actor Temuera Morrison, who did boxing training with Sykes and Ruru.

He told the jury Ruru “lived and breathed the law” and Sykes was so inspirational, everyone wanted to fight like him.

But it was hundreds of personal Facebook messages that showed Ruru “blurred the lines” as a police officer, the Crown told the jury last year.

The Crown argued Ruru was invested in Sykes and in her desire to help him she was “prepared to break and bend the rules” and get community work out of the way.

She didn’t supervise him like she was told she had to and logged community work hours for time he spent on his own training or bouts or not working.

Ruru said at the trial she wasn’t present for about 25 per cent of the hours. She said she called Community Corrections and arranged for others at the gym to supervise Sykes.

Ruru said during her evidence she understood Community Corrections was fine with the way she was doing things.

Judge Cooper, who presided over the trial, told the jury last year there was nothing in the messages to suggest the pair were having an intimate relationship.

Ruru was stood down from the police on full pay following her arrest in 2018. During her trial in August last year, she was still a police officer.

Today Bay of Plenty District Commander Superintendent Andy McGregor said police acknowledged the sentencing of “a former officer”.

“The public rightly expects high standards from police staff. We set high professional standards for ourselves and demand integrity in terms of judgement, choices and actions.”

He said when an officer’s conduct was not in line with the police’s values, they would not hesitate to investigate and deal with the matter.

The verdicts:
• Melissa-Mae Ruru, 35, and Tyson Jack Sykes, 32, were found guilty of willfully attempting to defeat the course of justice by completing and submitting false records in relation to Sykes’ sentence of community work between April 28 and September 30, 2017.

• They were found not guilty of willfully attempting to defeat the course of justice by completing and submitting false records in relation to Sykes’ sentence of community work between March 1 and August 31, 2016.

• Ruru was found guilty of two counts of forgery by making a false document, including unlawfully signing an Olympic Games team athlete agreement acceptance form on April 28, 2016, and unlawfully signing community work agency attendance records from August 10 to August 18.

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