Wellington Scoop

Man had a loaded gun, so fatal shooting by police was justified, rules judge

News from IPCA
The Independent Police Conduct Authority today released its report on the fatal Police shooting of nineteen-year-old Lachan Kelly-Tumarae in Omahu, a small settlement west of Hastings, in March 2011. The Authority Chair, Judge Sir David Carruthers, said after a very thorough investigation the Authority found that the officer who shot Mr Kelly-Tumarae was justified in firing as he genuinely believed his life was under immediate threat.

However, in releasing today’s report Sir David said that other aspects of the Police response did not comply with relevant Police policies or meet the standards of good practice.

In the very early hours of Sunday 28 March Mr Kelly-Tumarae, having consumed alcohol and cannabis the night before, left his grandmother’s home in Flaxmere taking with him his deceased grandfather’s shotgun and cartridges. Two Police officers who were out driving on routine patrol in Maraenui saw Mr Kelly-Tumarae crouching down beside a car. When they stopped to see what was happening Mr Kelly-Tumarae approached the patrol car and pointed the shotgun directly at them.

The officers sped away and informed the Police Central Communications Centre of the incident. Shortly afterwards, Mr Kelly-Tumarae drove off in his grandmother’s car. Police commenced a pursuit through suburban Napier which involved armed Police patrols from Napier and Hastings.

After a lengthy pursuit, lasting nearly 14 minutes and covering a distance of 18 kilometres, Mr Kelly-Tumarae pulled over outside the main entry to the Omahu Marae Cemetery. Two Police vehicles were close behind; one stopped about 14.5 metres behind while the other stopped directly beside Mr Kelly-Tumarae’s vehicle.

Mr Kelly-Tumarae grabbed his shotgun and fired one shot inside his vehicle, which appears to have been accidental. He got out of his car and, armed with his shotgun and ammunition belt, pointed his firearm in the direction of a Police officer sitting in the passenger seat of the patrol car which had stopped right next to his car.

The officer in the vehicle further behind drew his Glock pistol and got out of his vehicle calling ‘armed Police’. Mr Kelly-Tumarae ran towards the cemetery and then stopped, turned and aimed his shotgun at that officer. Fearing that Mr Kelly-Tumarae was going to shoot him, the officer discharged a volley of shots. Mr Kelly-Tumarae remained standing and believing he had missed, the officer fired another volley of shots. Mr Kelly-Tumarae then stumbled and fell to the ground. An ambulance was called and first aid was administered however Mr Kelly-Tumarae later died in hospital.

The officer discharged a total of 14 rounds from his Glock pistol. Four of the bullets wounded Mr Kelly-Tumarae and another bullet appears to have passed through his clothing without injuring him. In total 13 holes were found in Mr Kelly-Tumarae’s various layers of clothing which were caused by 5 bullets. The other nine bullets do not appear to have come into contact with him.

In releasing the report Judge Sir David Carruthers said Police responded to what was a fast paced and quickly evolving situation.

“In completing its investigation the Authority found the Police response was in many respects exactly as it should have been. The officers involved were justified in carrying out the pursuit and followed Police policy.

“Officers were also justified in arming themselves during the pursuit, with the exception of one officer who was not certified to carry a Police firearm and who, in doing so, breached Police policy. This particular officer however, was not the officer who subsequently shot Mr Kelly-Tumarae.

“The officer who shot Mr Kelly-Tumarae intended to incapacitate an armed offender and so remove a threat to his own life. Having decided to use his pistol, he continued to fire until he perceived that the immediate threat to his life had passed. In those circumstances the force used was justified.

“The Authority noted that there was room for improvement in respect of the Police’s communication with Mr Kelly-Tumarae’s family following the shooting and during the Police criminal investigation, particularly in respect of their failure to explain the numerous holes in Mr Kelly-Tumarae’s clothing at the time it was returned to the family in December 2011.

“It was Mr Kelly-Tumarae who initiated this incident by pointing a firearm at Police officers. Police had no option but to follow him in the hope that he could be safely contained. Responding to armed offenders is one of the unavoidable hazards of Police work. The officers who were called on to respond to Mr Kelly-Tumarae were willing to put their lives in danger in order to carry out their duty,” Sir David said.

The Authority has made a number of recommendations to Police following this incident including amendments to Police policy around the use and carrying of firearms.

A copy of the Authority’s report and a map of the pursuit route are available on our website – www.ipca.govt.nz

News from NZ Police
Police accept the report today from the Independent Police Conduct Authority which finds that the shooting of Lachan Kelly-Tumarae on 28 March 2011 at Omahu, near Hastings, was justified.

Assistant Commissioner Mike Rusbatch said officers had not wanted to shoot Mr Kelly-Tumarae, but were left with no other option after he threatened them several times with a loaded shotgun following a lengthy pursuit.

“As the Authority notes, this was a fast-paced, quickly evolving situation, in which numerous officers risked their lives in an effort to safely contain Mr Kelly-Tumarae, who bore the principal responsibility for what occurred. Tragically, he put officers in a position where they had no choice but to open fire, as they genuinely believed he was going to shoot them or potentially go on to hurt innocent members of the public.

“As the Authority also found, the number of shots fired by the officer involved was justified and reasonable to ensure that the threat posed by Mr Kelly-Tumarae was contained, bearing in mind that the officer had to make a number of split-second decisions under extreme pressure, while fearing for his own life and those of his fellow officers. That said, we are sorry that this incident ended in the tragic loss of a young man’s life, and our sympathies go to his family.”

Mr Rusbatch said Police were pleased the IPCA had noted its existing policies around critical incidents were sound, but that there were lessons to be learned from any incident. “Police accepts the Authority’s recommendations around improvements to aspects of our firearms policy, and have either implemented these, or have work underway to address them.”

Mr Rusbatch said work to improve auditing of firearms, ammunition and equipment at district level had already been completed, while national standardisation of auditing and documentation processes was underway. Work was underway on compulsory drug and alcohol testing for officers involved in critical incidents, while issues relating to the certification of staff involved in armed incidents would be addressed through implementation of a new tactical training framework already in progress.

Acting Eastern Police District Commander Inspector Sam Aberahama said any use of lethal force was always a last resort, and all staff involved were saddened that they had been left with no alternative when faced with a critical life-threatening situation.

“Our staff go to work every day to keep people safe, and this is the last thing that any officer wants to have to do. But in this case, Mr Kelly-Tumarae left us with no other option, and we are saddened that this incident ended in tragedy.”

Mr Aberahama said district Police accepted the IPCA’s findings that its interaction with the family was not as good as it should have been, nor was its explanation of damage caused to Mr Kelly-Tumarae’s clothing following the shooting. However, this had since been explained to the family.

Mr Aberahama said findings regarding some district staff not following aspects of policy had been addressed, and that the relevant policies had been reinforced.

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