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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Police motorway shooting in Auckland - self-exoneration

Since an innocent person died by a police bullet there is a strong prime facie case of recklessness to answer - as we must assume the killing was not deliberate (eg. a mis-identification of the target/offender).

But the police don't prosecute their own - it's as simple as that. There are only three reasons I can think of when police staff will be recommended for prosecution:
1. If the brother has transgressed other brothers in the course of the offence, or covering up/collaborating in the offence.
2. There is indisputable damning evidence that is already public, or will become public shortly.
3. There is political and/or judicial pressure.

Perhaps the police have concluded that most offending can be confronted via internal disciplinary charges and employment action rather than risk damaging brand NZ Police any further by dragging cops through the courts.

The media/public itself cannot bring enough pressure to trigger a prosecution on their own; but they can influence the politicians or expose compelling evidence. Private prosecutions are another avenue.

In this death of an innocent at their hands they have sewn the seeds of justifiable force majeure in the minds of the prejudiced - those in a hurry to excuse the police - before any of the pertinent facts are clear. There are still more questions than answers.

"Cross-fire" says the NZ Herald's report today. That's how the police are portraying it. The victim's widow:
"I was just crying and crying because there is no justice. The facts are there. He was shot by a cop. What more is there to it?"

As I posted at the time - as it unfolded -

I hear on the 3 o'clock news on RNZ that the police have shot someone on the motorway after a car chase and an attempted car-jacking. Then at 4 o'clock it's a "tragedy" according to the Police and it sounds as if the shot person is dead.

Now at 5 o'clock I can see the traffic still at a crawl - it took an hour for traffic to go from Ponsonby Rd to Surrey Crescent according to one commuter who just got back also saying the motorways were deserted - and RNZ now reports the police cannot confirm whether the offender has been shot...

Oh, no.

6:05PM [...] Orders, judgement calls, personal responsibility, accountability... a death, a tragedy. Questions will be asked; but the facts remain imprecise at this moment.

6:40PM: When I saw the map of the chase route (on TV3) I noticed that he takes a diversion to go all the way across town to Pitt Street before heading back out. Pitt St? Auckland Central Police Headquarters. Round their block and back out west. Taunting the cops. That's what TV3 is saying they did. Sounds like a crazed P-head on the fries; but what of the shooting?

Sources close to Police say the offender shot the man, not the police. So, what did the police shoot? When did they shoot, and when did the offender shoot (if at all)? The witnesses never mentioned shots from the offender, but they did say he had a gun. It happened further up the road from where I live, so I'm taking more of an interest in it than the normal police shooting incident.


10:35PM: [...] There is no suggestion that the offender had this "bystander" hostage, that does not appear to be an issue at all. This is a tragedy.

This is also looking bad. Either way this is looking very bad for the NZ Police. Letting this maniac drive all the way into town - right past the Auckland Central Police headquarters (if you believe TV3) and then blocking him in on the motorway - only to have him hijack traffic and then the OAS end up shooting an innocent bystander... that is what this is looking like at the moment. But, we don't know the detail of the broad facts at this point. The other option (that the police circles are putting out) is that the offender shot the bystander. Or both? We don't know at this point. The police will be investigating themselves again and it starts to get tricky. They are reluctant to tell us much at this stage.

What aren't they telling us? How many rounds were fired by police in the incident?

12:30PM Saturday: More Police communications - last night they called it a "homicide" and released the name of the 17 year old shooting victim.
And a further police communication this morning says the offender is in hospital with shrapnel wounds, but it's a "fatal" shooting not a "homicide" in this latest report: [...]

6:10PM: [...] The Police Assoc. are already on this one:
Police Association head Greg O'Connor said the officers had been put in a difficult position by the alleged offender.
Here we go. Let's just see what comes out.

8:50PM: [...] "MEDIA RELEASE January 24, 2009 4pm

Fatal shot fired by officer

The post-mortem examination of 17 year-old Halatau Naitoko, who was fatally shot while travelling on the Northwestern Motorway yesterday afternoon, was carried out this morning and was attended by an ESR ballistics expert who has advised Police that the fatal shot came from a Police issue firearm.

Auckland Assistant Commissioner Steve Shortland says the homicide investigation into Mr Naitoko's death has so far - and there's a mountain more work to be done - established that five shots were fired by Police at the motorway scene yesterday.
"We said yesterday that, no matter who fired the fatal shot, the events of January 23 in and around Auckland were tragic for all concerned," Mr Shortland said.

"They are no less tragic today for the Naitoko family and are more tragic for the officers involved who, it must be remembered, were where they were doing their duties"

- "more tragic for the officers involved" - that's typical police unfortunately. Only to the police could the killing of an innocent bystander by them be classified as less tragic than whatever criminal/administrative/professional fate befalls the person who pulled the trigger. There was a hail of bullets at the close that's for sure. The source who contacted me within half an hour of posting yesterday was the police spin that I thought it was at the time.

It's not good enough just to say it was cross-fire and the cops were in a shoot-out situation. They had a rolling block on him as he headed west. Then things went wrong and they lost what little control they had. The procedures for the pursuit need to be reviewed as well as the sequence involving the bystander.

The assumption from those people automatically supportive of the police is that the cops had to fire. That there was no other option but to fire on the offender to protect the life of the motorist (in the truck who was trying to thwart his hijack attempt). The assumption underlying that in turn is that if someone fires on the police they will fire on anyone. But that is simply not true - it is an assumption based on a universal love of the police. There was an incident earlier on in the chase where a witness said the offender was apologetic as he made his escape across her property.

So let's ask the questions again:
Who were the shooters?
How many rounds did they fire?
At what point did they decide to fire and why?
Did anyone give a command to fire?
Did the shooters spontaneously fire?
Did the shooters identify their target before they fired?
Did the shooters think they correctly identified their target after they fired?
Did the shooters identify dangers to the safety of others when they decided to fire?
Did the shooters see the van the deceased was in before they fired?
Did the shooters fire through the windscreen or glass of the truck?
Did the offender fire any shots while he was on foot on the motorway?
Did the offender say anything while on foot on the motorway?

So many questions, but it all comes down to this:

"Why did you pull the trigger?"

- And the only possible correct answer to that is:

"Because I reasonably believed that he was about to seriously harm or kill the man in the truck."

It's not good enough to believe that the offender would continue to menace random motorists. The only people he's fired at (from all the reports I've read) is the police. He went straight to the Police HQ in town - to taunt them, surely. The threat and harm must be immediate and substantial to shoot to kill. Was it in this case?

I've heard people say that frustration at not being able to catch him is enough to warrant the police shooting him! These are the sorts of low standards many people expect of the police. Until some police injustice happens to them, of course, and then the fine most incorruptible police force in the world suddenly become "lying corrupt pigs" and "Nazis."

NZ Police report - my bolding:

Homicide investigation completed

9:35am 28 May 2009

Auckland City Police yesterday informed the immediate family of Halatau Naitoko, the 17 year-old fatally shot on the North Western Motorway on January 23 this year, that no one will be charged in relation to his death.

Mr Naitoko was accidentally shot by an Armed Offenders Squad officer, one of several called to the scene on the day.

Stephen Hohepa McDonald, the armed man at the centre of the shooting, appears in the Auckland District Court again today having been remanded in custody after his last appearance on May 8 where he was charged with six - mainly firearms - offences.

He has been charged with 35 offences related to events leading up to and including the fatal motorway incident.

Auckland City District Police Commander, Superintendent George Fraser, said the decision not to charge anyone in relation to Mr Naitoko's death came at the end of a lengthy and thorough Police homicide investigation.

"The recommendations of the homicide investigation team were made in conjunction with advice from the Police Senior Legal Advisor and which were peer reviewed by independent senior legal counsel, John Haigh QC," Mr Fraser said.

"The AOS officers were advised of my decision yesterday, via their respective legal counsel."

The Independent Police Conduct Authority investigation is ongoing, as is the Coroner's and aspects of the Police investigation into the pursuit.

All AOS officers called to the incident on January 23 returned to AOS duties after being assessed as fit to do so.


Issued by Noreen Hegarty
Auckland City Police Communications Manager

Independent Counsel, QC means they paid a lawyer to look at it for them. Nothing more. Lawyers get paid to justify the positions of the people who are paying them. It means nothing. Totally lite on the facts. Two more reports to come.


At 2/6/09 11:53 am, Anonymous Frankie said...

What a disgusting miscarriage of justice.

At 2/6/09 1:19 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An order was given to take a/the shot. The target may have been the wrong person. Whoever ordered/sanctioned the shot should be charged. If the shooter has not received an order/sanction to shoot then that person should face charges. In other words was the shot 'legal' or 'illegal'. If legal then the blame goes up the ladder, if illegal then the person who fired the shot is liable.

It seems pretty straight forward to me.

At 2/6/09 4:54 pm, Anonymous Frankie said...

"The target may have been the wrong person."

Anon- that's how it looked to me right from the start. Cop mistook one brown man for another.

Shooting a COMPLETELY INNOCENT person is not suddenly OK just because it was a police officer who fired the shot.


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