By Jonathan Mitchell of RNZ

The family of a man shot dead two decades ago is taking a civil case against the police in the High Court at Wellington.

In 2000, Steven Wallace walked down Waitara's main street using a golf club to smash shop windows, a taxi and then a patrol car with officers in it.

Wallace was shot dead by senior constable Keith Abbott, who in 2002 was acquitted of murder when the Wallace family took a private prosecution against him.


The 23-year-old's cause of death, according to the Independent Police Conduct Authority's subsequent report, was a fatal wound to his liver.

"[Doctors] confirmed that even if first aid had been rendered immediately after Steven was shot, he would not have survived."

The family believes there were other tactical options available to the police, and has argued Wallace was deprived of the right to life.

The lawyer representing the Wallace family, Graeme Minchin, told the High Court today Abbott's actions went too far.

"He was acting unreasonably because he was breaching the police instructions as to how to deal with that situation," he said.

He said Abbott had a case of mistaken identity and thought Wallace was actually another person, David Toa.

In any case, Minchin said the gun shouldn't have been fired.

"Well, he (Abbott) could have clocked him from behind.


"What we're saying is the arrest could have been made - we're not saying that Steven Wallace wasn't a problem, we're not saying that he didn't warrant getting clocked, or dealt to and arrested - we're just saying he shouldn't have been shot," he said.

However, Crown lawyer Peter Gunn said the police officer feared for his life.

"Steven Wallace presented a very real danger of either death, or serious bodily injury at the time of the incident," he said.

Gunn said evidence from the criminal trial would be referenced in this civil proceeding.

The case before Justice Ellis is set down for a week.