Policeman who killed innocent: I felt sick

By Jared Savage

Peter Devoy says the officers showed great bravery. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Peter Devoy says the officers showed great bravery. Photo / Paul Estcourt

The police officer who accidentally shot and killed an innocent bystander believed the tactics of the Armed Offenders Squad were sound and would not do anything different in the same circumstances.

Officer A84 gave evidence at the inquest into the death of Halatau Naitoko behind closed doors at the Auckland District Court this week.

Seventeen-year-old Halatau's parents were the only members of the public allowed to listen to the constable, but transcripts of the evidence were released yesterday.

The AOS officer fired three shots at Stephen Hohepa McDonald but missed him as he tried to hijack a truck. The third shot went through an open window of Halatau's van and struck him in the heart.

Under questioning from Colin Pidgeon, QC, acting on behalf of Halatau's family, Officer A84 said: "I believe presented with exactly the same situation I would do again what I did. A tragic accident happened as a result of it, but our actions were tactically sound."

Officer A84 expressed sympathy to Halatau's family and said a meeting with them was possible.

As a P-fuelled McDonald could kill truck driver Richard Neville - or the two police officers confronting him - A84 decided to pull the trigger. McDonald was in A84's sights and three shots were fired. Officer A81 also fired and McDonald fell over on the deck after Mr Neville braked sharply.

McDonald was arrested and Officer A84 learned soon after that Halatau had been killed.

"I had mixed emotions, my heart sank and I felt sick. I felt terrible and thought it was the offender who had shot the person in the van," said Officer A84.

"I knew where my weapon was pointed and where I was aiming when I pulled the trigger. I could not see how either of us, A81 or I, could have been responsible. I thought I had not done my job properly as the offender had killed the guy in the van before we incapacitated, disarmed and arrested him."

A post-mortem the following day revealed a police bullet killed Halatau. Officer A84 was determined to have fired the fatal shot a few weeks later after a detailed reconstruction by police and ballistics experts.

Under cross-examination by Mr Pidgeon, Officer A84 had no clear recollection of firing the third shot.

Mr Pidgeon: "Can you explain to the court how you came to shoot Mr Naitoko? Are you saying that it was a fault with your weapon or is it inaccurate shooting?"

Officer A84: "I believe it was because everything was moving - the truck was moving, McDonald was moving, I was moving."

Mr Pidgeon: "Do you accept your shooting was inaccurate?"

Officer A84: "No, I do not, because I know what I saw in my sights."

The Coroner's inquest also heard evidence from Detective Inspector Pete Devoy, who headed the inquiry into Halatau's death.

Mr Devoy concluded that charges should not be laid against A81 and A84, a decision backed by a senior police lawyer and reviewed by prominent barrister John Haigh, QC.

"They believed their field of fire was clear and they could shoot McDonald without any danger to anybody else," Mr Devoy said.

However, the truck driver suddenly braked, causing McDonald to lose his balance. At the same time Mr Naitoko's courier van pulled up behind vehicles stopped in his lane, coming into the line of fire.

Mr Devoy expressed his condolences to Halatau's family, in particular his mother Ivoni Fuimaono and her husband Kepu Teputepu, who were at the inquest.

He also paid tribute to the officers who confronted McDonald, who he considered responsible for Halatau's death.

"I consider officers A81 and A84 showed great bravery and disregard for their own personal safety to cross the motorway and engage McDonald at close quarters as they did."

The inquest is expected to finish today.

An article yesterday stated that a secure radio channel used by the AOS was not working because the frequency was overloaded. The AOS channel was not working for an unknown reason and the AOS officers were unable to use the regular police channel because it was overloaded with too much "chatter".

- NZ Herald

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