Kawerau siege: Alleged gunman appears in court

A man alleged to be at the centre of an armed standoff near Kawerau for nearly 24 hours has appeared in court.

Rhys Richard Ngahiwi Warren, 27, of Coastlands, was remanded in custody without plea on four charges of using a firearm against four different police officers on March 9.

The charges have a maximum penalty of 14 years' prison.

Warren entered the court flanked by two police officers and wearing a blue boiler suit, before being left to stand alone in the dock with his hands handcuffed together and hanging his head.

About six family and friends were in court for his appearance but they remained quiet throughout his five-minute appearance.

The police officers who were injured in the shooting had their names suppressed by Judge Peter Rollo.

Warren, who will now have a psychiatric report prepared, will reappear in the Rotorua District Court on March 24, 2016.

Family members, who were last night at the scene throughout the night, tearfully said they "still love our son" after he was arrested by police, surrendering peacefully this morning.

Warren allegedly shot and injured four police officers yesterday during a drug operation in the small Bay of Plenty town, after which he holed himself up in a family property.

Rhys Warren was taken into custody after the siege at Onepu Springs road, just out from Kawerau. Photo / Whakatane Beacon
Rhys Warren was taken into custody after the siege at Onepu Springs road, just out from Kawerau. Photo / Whakatane Beacon

One officer remained in hospital in a serious but stable condition, another was in hospital awaiting further treatment for a gunshot wound to his hand and the two others have been discharged.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush addressed media in Kawerau.

He provided more details about the shot police officers.

"This morning I visited the two seriously injured staff members at Waikato Hospital. They are currently in theatre - one is more seriously injured, he has a firearm injury to the head and it will be operated on as we speak. And the other officer has a firearm wound to his hand, and that also is being treated as we speak."

Mr Bush acknowledged all the medical assistance given to the four injured police officers.

The other two officers have been released from hospital, he said, and were at home with their families. He said all were receiving excellent support and help from their whanau and colleagues.

Mr Bush also thanked Taupo police area commander Inspector Warwick Morehu.

Mr Bush said Mr Morehu kept a close liaison with the man's whanau and was also involved with talking to the man and helping to bring the situation to a safe conclusion.

Rhys Warren was taken away by police following his arrest. Photo / Ben Fraser
Rhys Warren was taken away by police following his arrest. Photo / Ben Fraser

Mr Morehu said it was really clear that a priority was to have a relationship with the family of the man.

"To understand what their needs and their anxieties were regarding the situation and obviously [part of] my negotiations with their son was to be able to convey some of that stuff. Certainly good communication with the family was key."

Mr Morehu said he has had some dealings with the family back in 2009 when he was looking after Kawerau police station and that this helped when building rapport.

When asked if the police fired any weapons during the stand-off, commissioner Bush said: "Yes, there was an exchange of gunfire but we're about to commence our investigation and our scene examination, so I can't go into any more detail on that as yet, because we don't know the full circumstances."

Police Commissioner Superintendent Mike Bush fronts media along with Taupo police area commander Warwick Morehu. Photo / Nick Reed
Police Commissioner Superintendent Mike Bush fronts media along with Taupo police area commander Warwick Morehu. Photo / Nick Reed

He said police think three of the officers were shot with a shotgun and one may have been shot with a .22 rifle.

"But again, it's early days in the investigation and we need to confirm that."

Mr Bush said his understanding was that the first three officers were shot inside the house, but again said that it was still very early in the investigation.

He said the fact that the four officers were shot "speaks to their courage".

"Our police staff go into very dynamic situations. We don't always know what we're dealing with but our staff are very well trained, they're well equipped. I'm really thankful that they were wearing the right equipment ... I don't think it could have turned out any better than it actually did."

Mr Bush said there would be a debrief on the incident.

Mr Bush said police had learned a lot over the years and that this incident was an example of how they engage with whanau and iwi.

Mr Morehu said today was about getting back to "grass roots" - dealing with whanau and relying on skills you pick up over many years as an officer.

"You've always got to stay in touch with what's happening on the ground and it was my turn to jump into the fold and do what I could and so I'm happy to do that."

In regards to the outcome, Mr Morehu said he was a "proud Maori" and a "proud Maori officer". He was reluctant to be called a hero, however.

"To me the heroes are the guys that went to hospital yesterday and I suppose that certainly serves as an inspiration - close colleagues being hurt in the field.

"We come out, we do our job. We do what we can at a time of crisis and we do the best we can and quite often we're stretched. I think I'm coming up 28-30 hours now on the trot, but we do what we have to do and get the job done - keep our families and our community safe."

Mr Bush said the scene examination would start almost immediately and that they hoped to clear the way for people - who live within the cordon - to get back into their homes in the very near future.

Police have relaxed the cordon as far as Thompson Rd.

Warren was arrested after a 22-hour stand-off with police, and wore sunglasses and a dark top as he left the scene in the back of an unmarked police car.

Family members voiced encouragement and tapped the car as he was driven away.
They gathered around to pray with a priest.

Warren's mother Renee Wetini told the Herald her son was "clearer" in his head.

"He's a bit clearer in his head, he would have been scared yesterday, frightened ... with the helicopters and everything."

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She said the siege's peaceful end could serve as a lesson for others. The family had wanted to be involved from the outset and if they had not, the outcome could have been "devastating".

"We still love our son and we're very happy with the outcome, couldn't have done it without the whanau. This is what we wanted all along. We felt that we couldn't do it without the whanau intervention. We believe that maybe police will be able to use this as an example ... rather than going in guns blazing.

Family gather and hug after the siege came to and end. Photo / Nick Reed
Family gather and hug after the siege came to and end. Photo / Nick Reed

"It is very good to have this result, obviously we don't know what happened yesterday, it is very scary," Ms Wetini said. "I feel for the police and their families."

How siege unfolded

The drama unfolded when police heard three shots at the rural property on Onepu Springs Rd about 10.45am yesterday.

The shots came during an operation using a plane, which is believed to have been searching for cannabis crops.

Police then cordoned off the property after another shot was fired at the plane.

The Armed Offenders Squad arrived in Kawerau after being called out from Rotorua and police later confirmed that officers had been shot and a large police operation was underway.

A family spokesperson gives a statement during the siege. Photo / Nick Reed
A family spokesperson gives a statement during the siege. Photo / Nick Reed

A no-fly zone was put in place, a police negotiation team arrived at the scene and New Zealand Defence Force staff and Special Tactics Group officers were brought in, as well as a Defence Force helicopter and NZ Army Light Armoured Vehicles (LAV).

It all came to an end at 9am this morning, after Mr Morehu entered the cordon to talk with Warren.

Mr Morehu was requested by Warren's family to negotiate with him on their behalf.

He was at the scene overnight but had begun travelling back to Rotorua when he was summoned back to the property because Warren wanted him to be the police officer that arrested him.

He had been in discussions with family all morning.

A St John ambulance - driven by a balaclava-wearing, camouflage-clothed man, likely an AOS member - went inside the cordon shortly after Mr Morehu was seen walking in.

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Family were then seen hugging police at the cordon shortly after, signalling a successful negotiation.

Mr Morehu then climbed from a car parked back from the cordon, approached family at the intersection, and after speaking to them briefly, hugged and kissed them and returned to the car.

The vehicle then drove through the cordon, with Mr Morehu and Warren inside.

A friend of the family said they were relieved to have a peaceful outcome and just wished police had listened to them from the beginning in getting Mr Morehu to the scene.

Mr Bush praised the efforts of all police staff and those in other emergency services who had worked on the overnight operation, with special thanks paid to colleagues in the New Zealand Defence Force who provided support.

NZ Army light armoured vehicles enter the cordon. Photo / Steve Parker
NZ Army light armoured vehicles enter the cordon. Photo / Steve Parker

He said he had visited the two police officers being treated for gunshot wounds in Waikato Hospital.

"I can say they are in good spirits, despite the traumatic events which they have experienced in the past 24 hours."

He said Warren would now be given a medical check and then taken to the Whakatane
police station for an interview.

A family spokeswoman, Ripeka Lessels, held an impromptu stand-up for media outside the cordon earlier in the morning before the negotiation and arrest.

She said the whanau were notified that an incident was unfolding at the Onepu Springs family home yesterday just after 2pm.

The information given to them was "pretty spasmodic and somewhat misleading" leaving the whanau often disgruntled, she said.

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She said Mr Morehu was going in to "collect their son alongside the armed forces, this has been a process that the whanau have wanted, that Warwick be allowed, to go in and collect him last night."

Ms Lessels said Mr Morehu had been continually communicating with the whanau to help them understand the police process. But had they been able to do it their way the situation may have been resolved within the first few hours, she claimed.

"This son, cousin, nephew would have come out for his whanau yesterday."

They had held an overnight vigil at the cordon.

Rachel Pereniki, Warren's first cousin, said he had been texting her all afternoon yesterday.

The last text message from him was at 10.41pm. She said in that message he said he wanted to come out but wanted her to go and get him.

An aunty said Warren declared at 4.30am he was ready to give himself up but he wanted to wait until daylight, the Whakatane Beacon reported.

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Reverend Wayne Te Kaawa was at the site all night with family and performed a karakia.

A truck on site supplied family members with food and hot drinks.

Timeline

Wednesday:

10.45am: Police hear three shots in the Otakiri area in the Bay of Plenty during an operation using a plane.
11.30am: Police cordon off a rural property on Onepu Springs Rd, Kawerau after another shot is fired at the plane, which is believed to have been searching for cannabis crops.
1pm: The Armed Offenders Squad arrive in Kawerau after being called out from Rotorua.
3.45pm: Police confirm three officers have been shot. A large police operation is underway at the property, where the gunman is believed to be holed up.
4.15pm: Two Rotorua officers arrive at Whakatane Hospital. A third officer is airlifted to Rotorua Hospital.
5.40pm: Police confirm a fourth officer has been shot.
6pm: Police hold a media briefing at National Headquarters in Wellington confirming they are only looking for one shooter.
7pm: Police announce a Defence helicopter has been deployed to the scene along with three light armoured vehicles.
7.25pm: Police say a 3 mile radius no-fly zone has been established around the area.
8.50pm: Police Commissioner Mike Bush confirmed he is en route back to New Zealand.

Thursday:
6.30am: Police say the situation remains unchanged overnight with no further shots fired.
9:00am: Police confirm a man has been arrested.

- NZ Herald

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