The actions of two Armed Offenders Squad members leading up to the fatal shooting of a Kawerau man were unjustified, the Independent Police Conduct Authority has found.
The findings into the February 2019 shooting of Astin Hooper were released this morning.
It said although the two AOS officers were acting in self-defence when they fired at Hooper immediately after he shot at them, their prior actions were not justified in the circumstances overall.
The officers escalated the situation by driving past an existing cordon towards Hooper which resulted in him firing at them, the report said.
On Thursday February 21, 2019, Hooper stole a shotgun and a ute from his father's home and robbed the Kawerau Credit Union about 9am. When local officers found Hooper in the ute about 40 minutes later he chased their police car twice around a truck turning bay before driving off.
Shortly afterwards, police caught up to the ute and began pursuing Hooper.
At 10.21am, Hooper stopped the ute on the side of Onepu Springs Rd. Two police cars stopped behind him, keeping a distance of about 100m.
A third police car stopped about 80m away on the other side creating a cordon in an attempt to contain Hooper.
Shortly afterwards, two AOS officers drove past the police vehicles and towards the ute intending to arrest Hooper. As they approached they saw him pointing a firearm towards them from within the ute.
The AOS officers stopped and took cover by their vehicle, aiming their rifles at Hooper and calling on him to surrender. Hooper then fired the shotgun once towards the AOS officers who fired nine shots back at him.
Hooper suffered five gunshot wounds and, despite receiving first aid within a minute of being shot, died at the scene.
The authority found that the AOS officers were legally justified in shooting Hooper in self-defence, however, before that became necessary they should have stopped at the cordon and sought to de-escalate the situation by communicating with Hooper.
They also should have consulted the Incident Controller and obtained his approval for their arrest plan.
Authority chairman Judge Colin Doherty said by immediately driving closer to Hooper the AOS officers unnecessarily escalated the situation, put themselves within range of his shotgun and prompted his reaction.
"Mr Hooper's decision to aim and fire his shotgun at the AOS officers was entirely his own responsibility, but the police response should have afforded him a greater opportunity to reconsider his actions and surrender," Doherty said.
The authority also determined that police responded to the two initial incidents involving Hooper in a timely and effective manner and managed the search for Hooper, and the subsequent pursuit, appropriately and in line with police policy.
Police also provided timely and appropriate medical assistance, the authority found.
Police reaction to findings
Bay of Plenty District Commander Superintendent Andy McGregor said given Hooper's actions earlier in the day, officers had reason to believe he continued to pose a threat.
McGregor said although there were always a number of ways to deal with any situation, officers were trained to use the TENR risk assessment tool to determine their actions.
"We train and trust our staff to make judgment calls each and every day.
"In this instance, we had an offender with a firearm who was in a vehicle, who could have at any point attempted to flee, potentially firing shots towards our staff and subsequently other people.
"Our officers' priority was to take him into custody as quickly and efficiently as possible, to limit the harm he may have caused," McGregor said.
"This was an outcome nobody wanted, and our thoughts remain with Mr Hooper's whānau and friends, and with the police."
AOS officer's comments
AOS Officer A, as noted in the report, said that staying back was not a realistic option because: "Upon pulling up, the offender was already levelling a firearm at police.
"He'd already discharged a shot in the initial incident and already used the firearm in the commission of an aggravated robbery at a bank."
Officer A concluded by saying that police were at risk from an armed offender and he believed they had the training and equipment to deal with the situation.