A 501 deportee with a history of mental illness who woke up “fried” from drug use and hearing voices in his head said he wanted to punish society for not recognising his good deeds when he decided to go to an Auckland mall and start threatening people with a knife.
“To be honest, I wanted to kill someone,” Chris Amituanai, 46, told police upon his arrest one year ago this week, after the brief rampage caused terrified onlookers to flee and an Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) response.
A psychiatric report earlier this year suggested an insanity defence might be available for Amituanai.
But he instead pleaded guilty to a raft of offences resulting from the attack, and today was sentenced by Auckland District Court Judge Debra Bell to 16 months’ imprisonment. Because he has been in custody over the past year, he’s likely to be released immediately on time served.
“If [the] AOS had not been involved, things may very well have turned out differently,” the judge said, noting that no one was hurt in the incident but two victims remain shaken.
She ordered post-release conditions mandating that he attend community mental health services.
Court documents state Amituanai arrived at St Lukes Westfield Mall around 8.05am on Monday, August 15, 2022 and immediately started yelling and screaming. Security guard Jay Singh told the stranger to leave the mall.
“I’m gonna kill you,” Singh recalled the defendant saying as he pulled out a knife which had been concealed in his trousers and pointed it at the guard. “I’m here to get killed today.”
Amituanai then went to the food court, grabbing a chair he threw at the guard, according to the agreed summary of facts for the case. The guard was able to dodge the chair.
The defendant then left the mall and walked across the street to the CityFitness St Lukes gym.
“Upon entry, the defendant approached the reception, swept the equipment off the counter and damaged two computer monitors,” court documents state. “The defendant left the premises and approached the second victim outside the building.
“Using his right hand, he pointed the knife towards the victim and told him, ‘Get out of the way, don’t be a hero.’ Police arrived shortly after and the defendant was subsequently arrested.”
A gym member told the Herald on the day of the incident he was working out in the machine section when a man in a black hoodie jumped the gate, entered the facility and started making a commotion. There was a lot of yelling, but he left soon thereafter and everybody got back to training, he said.
“But then again at 8.30am, I saw the man return. At that time, he got locked inside, so he ran out the back exit up the driveway,” the witness said. “I saw the knife in his hand when he was running towards the machines. I started running and told people to get out the back gate.”
Another gym-goer said he also saw the brief initial commotion inside the gym, and figured “someone just probably had a bad case of Monday” before leaving the gym and watching others run out behind him.
“I heard everybody in the gym running at full speed outside as if somebody was chasing them,” Matthew Le said.
Amituanai was charged with two counts of threatening to kill or do grievous bodily harm with a stabbing or cutting weapon, which carries a maximum punishment of seven years’ imprisonment; one count each of assaulting a person with a blunt instrument and assaulting a person with a cutting weapon, which each carry five-year maximum penalties; two counts of possessing an offensive weapon, punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment; and one count of willful damage, punishable by up to three months’ imprisonment.
In victim impact statements that were submitted to the court but not read aloud today, the security guard said he was shocked by the incident, which was like nothing he had encountered before, and he still fears the defendant will return.
The person Amituanai confronted in the gym carpark said the incident “caused him to have wild anxiety” as he feared for the safety of himself and his partner.
“Your actions very clearly had a lasting effect on them,” Judge Bell noted.
Amituanai’s offending since his deportation to New Zealand has been fairly limited, but has included threatening to kill and assaults, the judge noted, adding that he has accumulated over 50 charges during his 13 years living in Australia, including stalking, armed robbery and assaulting police.
A mental health report suggests he is a high risk of reoffending due to his mental health issues and not taking anti-psychotic medication. He acknowledged that he hadn’t been on his meds for weeks when the St Lukes incidents occurred.
He told a mental health assessor he “woke up very angry” that morning, and the reason was because “society had not recognised you for the good deeds you’d done”, the judge said today. The judge also noted “you’re not a bad man, you just haven’t taken your medication”, and Amituanai told a pre-sentence report writer he “regretted everything” and “would like the opportunity to say sorry”.
He has been subject to in-patient mental health treatment multiple times over the past decade, the judge said.
In a letter of remorse to the court, Amituanai noted that in the 1990s in Sydney, to make it up to society for past misdeeds, he went to secondary schools to discuss the ramifications of bad decision-making with students. He’d like to do that again in New Zealand, he said.
“You’re asking to be able to redeem yourself,” the judge said. “I note ... you have made these promises previously.
“... There’s very little I can do to help you. It’s yourself you’ve got to help. I really hope you can stick to the words in your remorse letter.”
Craig Kapitan is an Auckland-based journalist covering courts and justice. He joined the Herald in 2021 and has reported on courts since 2002 in three newsrooms in the US and New Zealand.