Mother of shot teen hopes cops will learn

By Andrew Koubaridis

Ivoni Fuimoana-Teputepu, mother of victim Halatau Naitoko. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Ivoni Fuimoana-Teputepu, mother of victim Halatau Naitoko. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The mother of the teenager accidentally shot by police on an Auckland motorway says the most important thing for her family is that the tragedy is never repeated.

Ivoni Fuimoana-Teputepu, mother of 17-year-old Halatau Naitoko, told the Herald she did not want another family to experience what her family had been through.

"We're going to mourn and go through this for the rest of our lives, to be honest."

Mr Naitoko was in his courier van on the Northwestern Motorway when he was killed on January 23, 2009, as police fired on gunman Stephen Hohepa McDonald, who had been trying to evade them for about an hour.

Coroner Gordon Matenga yesterday said Mr Naitoko's death was a tragic accident and called the police action justified - but said "that wasn't the end of the matter".

Mr Matenga called for police to give more weight to the experience levels of Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) members and was concerned two officers missed their target from 7-9m away.

There were problems with communication, and one officer fired his gun in an "incredibly dangerous" manner that was a "gross infraction" of police policy. An Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) investigation into those factors was under way and was close to being released.

Ms Fuimoana-Teputepu said: "These are things that I've heard before ... that [police] are in the process of going ahead with [changes] to training and other things. It's a good thing and that's what I was hoping to see ... what they could learn from this and do to improve the way they work."

She accepted that the shooting was an accident and was now looking for closure. Reading the report - especially the passages about her son's death - bought back a lot of painful memories, she said. "I was never angry. For me, I just really miss my son a lot. More than any of my family I miss him but what can I do?"

She did not want to blame anyone and accepted the coroner's decision.

Mr Matenga said he was concerned the officers missed their intended target with four shots "from a reasonably close range of between 7 and 9m".

That, along with the failure of one officer "to appreciate what was within the line of fire" showed a need for further training and "an acknowledgement by AOS that experience matters".

The two officers were the least experienced of those to respond to the incident and one had never fired at a person before. Also of concern, the same officer had no recollection of firing the fatal shot which was probably due to the heightened tension.

Todd Simmonds, the barrister who represented Officers A81 and A84, released a statement saying both officers' actions had been scrutinised in extreme detail.

They noted the shooting was a tragic accident but remained devastated someone had died as a result of their actions.

"The officers once again extend their sincere condolences to the Naitoko family for their tragic loss."

Assistant Commissioner Allan Boreham said police deeply regretted the shooting.

"Police were dealing with an armed, mobile, unpredictable, drug-fuelled offender who had threatened several members of the public and police with a firearm and had further shot at police officers and at the police Eagle helicopter."

WHAT WENT WRONG

* Coroner concerned that two officers, A81 and A84, missed four shots from range of 7-9m.

* Coroner concerned that A84 did not appreciate that there were potentially three people other than gunman in line of fire.

* Inspector at police communications centre had trouble communicating with some units and some were not logged in.

* Coroner said the death was a tragic accident and the police actions were justified because of the danger gunman posed.

- NZ Herald

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