An unarmed Kaoss Price was shot dead by police after he rammed a patrol car. David Fisher speaks to a family looking for answers and looks at Price's final days leading up to the fatal night.
Kaoss Price died 100m from where police first opened fire.
It's a long stretch of landscape from where the bullets started flying on State Highway 3 in Taranaki to where the father of three came to an end this recent Easter weekend.
It starts at the Volkswagen in which Kaoss was travelling, abandoned on the wrong side of the road with two, possibly three, bullet holes in it. It ends along the highway, Kaoss covering 100m on foot like he was "running for his life" with a police dog and armed officer in pursuit, weapon drawn.
Days later, one of Kaoss' oldest friends studied his body as she changed his clothes ahead of the tangi. She found two bullet wounds, both on the front side of his body. One bullet struck Price on his right-hand side, around the bottom of his rib cage. The other bullet wound was in his chest.
There were other injuries, too. Her account, supported by other information, shows Kaoss had significant damage to his right forearm and also wounds on his left forearm. It was believed these injuries were caused by bites from the police dog at the scene.
There were witnesses. The Herald on Sunday spoke to three. Photographs from inside the police cordon show there was traffic on the road that night. Drivers slowed then stopped as the drama unfolded. Neighbours came out of their houses.
Their witness statements, the forensic details from the scene, the autopsy of Kaoss and the account of the police officers present are all evidence gathered in the inquiry led by a detective superintendent.
The investigation will eventually report to the public, as will that from the Independent Police Conduct Authority. There is also the possibility of an inquest, which may just accept the IPCA findings. Much of the country will hear of it in the media, consider the outcome and move on.
For Kaoss' family, and others in their world, it is clear they simply do not trust the police. On that basis, there are few outcomes they are likely to accept.
Just up the road from where Kaoss was killed, the family of Steven Wallace still hasn't received the answers it needs. It's 22 years since Wallace was shot and killed. Like Kaoss, he was a young Māori man. Of those shot and killed by police, young Māori men make up 34 per cent even though they are just 3 per cent of the population.
That's a statistic delivered by Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. What does it mean, then, that we keep doing the same thing and keep getting the same outcome?
What do you think gangs are about, says Ngarewa-Packer. It's a "retaliation to not fitting into society's world so they create their own world."
"How the hell do they reconnect with everyday society?"
Here's another statistic. New academic research shows police in New Zealand shoot people at a significantly higher rate than police do in England and Wales.
Former New Zealand police officer Dr Ross Hendy is now a criminologist at Australia's Monash University. He was involved in research that found the frequency of police shootings had doubled in New Zealand over the past two decades while dropping in England and Wales.
On a population basis, data showed New Zealand increased with 0.36 shootings per million people over 2001-2010 growing to 0.783 in 2011-2020. In England and Wales, the rate per million dropped from 0.08 to 0.074.
The research paper, published in the academic Policing journal, listed environmental reasons but also suggested the increase from 2012 onwards could be down to police policy. Those included allowing officers greater access to firearms with pistols in the trunks of patrol cars and removing the need to seek supervisor permission to take a weapon out.
The research paper asked "has the reduction in NZP's command and control of firearms resulted in an increase in the propensity for first responders to use firearms out of convenience rather than necessity?"
Are police shooting people because every problem looks like a nail when hammers have been made easier to reach?
A budding rugby player
When Leigh Price, 39, runs through the attributes of his son Kaoss he talks about those which carry weight in "our world".
There is a clear line between worlds. On one side, mainstream New Zealand. On the other, the world of Leigh Price.
There will be those who look at Leigh's new facial tattoo and cross the road. Then there will be those who see beauty and pain in it, recognising the inked "KP22" is in remembrance of his son, marking his initials and the age and year he died.
In either world, people love their children and feel pain when they die. In one world, pain might be described with eloquent obituaries. Leigh Price, though, has spent a lifetime being staunch as and those words don't easily come.
So his face now speaks to the pain inside. In the weeks after Kaoss died, "KP22" became an homage to his son. It replicated the half-face tattoo Kaoss wore, inked in jail to mark his first prison sentence and his growing allegiance to the Nomad gang. It was only on his face for two months of what was meant to be a 30-month sentence, reduced to 23 months on appeal. Early release saw Kaoss locked up in July and out by March.
Kaoss Price was born at Taranaki hospital in February 2000 to Jules Hana, 23, and Leigh Price, 18. "I was still a kid when I had a kid," his dad says. The name "Kaoss" was chosen because "I always wanted a different name than Leigh". Kaoss was spelled with a double-S because "the other way [a single S] is a skinhead way".
Leigh and Jules had met a year earlier in Auckland. Leigh was already a wild child by then. "I wasn't bad," he says. "It's just everything I did wrong I got caught for. I just had bad luck."
Worse luck was being sent to Great Barrier Island where former Olympic wrestler John da Silva's government-funded courses for wayward youth were going off the rails. Leigh remembers being forced to stand to attention with other boys while da Silva fired bullets past their heads. "He lined us up bro. You could feel the bullets," he recalls. "Then he throws you a shovel and says, 'dig your graves'."
Leigh was from the remote wilds of Whangamōmona so that's where they went when Kaoss came along. Jules remembers the back-and-forth of homes from Whangamōmona to Stratford and New Plymouth in the years following.
There was a period living with Leigh's grandmother, Margaret. "Every time things didn't go right," Jules says, "we went back to her house." And there was a time when Kaoss and his younger sister, Chelsea, went to live with Margaret.
Sporting excellence crosses all worlds and that's where Kaoss found his own chance to shine. As teenage years approached, he made his mark in teen rugby with a size and physical presence that carved a path through opposition teams. Jules recalls Taranaki rugby talent spotters who had plans for their boy. "He wanted to be a rugby player," she says. "He wanted to be like Sonny Bill Williams."
It went awry. "It took two years to get our kids back," says Jules. "By the time that was sorted out he had started to drift off." There was a scholarship on offer to New Plymouth Boys High but Kaoss chose Spotswood. "At high school, he got mixed up with the wrong crowd," she says.
Teenage years saw Kaoss sneaking out at night, hanging out with friends, skipping school, smoking weed. "He always came home," says Jules. Eventually, he was suspended from school then faced hoops to jump through if he wanted to go back. There was never a good reason to do so.
When Kaoss was 17, he became a father for the first time and he, his partner and baby moved to Upper Hutt.
Leigh and Jules parted in 2018. Jules, now 45, lives with Stuart "Popeye" Brill and Leigh with Stevie Apiata, an old friend of Kaoss. Stevie, 25, reckons the new relationship sent Kaoss into a loop for a bit but her old friend - now stepson - came to see it as good.
Kaoss was 19 when he and his partner had a second child. There was a roadworks job for a few months but it didn't stick. It was, Jules recalls, when the arguments among the young couple started.
They would be off-then-on as time went on until Kaoss needed to complete parenting and anger management courses to see his partner or their children. "That was part of his breaking point," says Jules. "Not being able to see his kids until he did the programmes."
Kaoss was all about living in the moment. A court judgment details what Kaoss did instead of courses. It's a list of impulsive, thrill-seeking law-breaking that stretched to 32 charges of reckless driving, car theft, petrol drive-offs, police chases, escaping from police, burglary and theft. The driving stunts are so reckless that one instance details Kaoss escaping police by speeding through a pedestrian crossing being used by school children.
And there was one other crime. A summary of facts released to the Herald by the New Plymouth District Court alleged Kaoss pulled a gun on someone in Waitara, in June 2021, using it to take his car.
Just as he was about to be released from prison, he pleaded guilty to robbery. His sentence of 15 months was wrapped into his current term as "time served" because he was inside. If he had pleaded after being released, he would likely have gone back inside and never been on the road that night.
The use of a pistol would have raised a perception among police that Kaoss posed an increasingly greater risk. He was known for avoiding arrest by escaping the law in cars and on foot. In one instance, he even slipped away as handcuffs were being put on.
Now, he had graduated to a firearm. When he was arrested in July, the Armed Offenders Squad was used to carry out the arrest.
Now Kaoss was out of prison and was again encountering police. It's unknown how often he featured in shift-change briefings and difficult to know how large he loomed in their minds.
Did they see the generous, warm-hearted soul his family and friends speak of? Or did they see a different Kaoss - one with menace, perhaps holding a pistol?
'Not a bad kid'
What if, asks Leigh. "What if I'd said something? What if I was different growing up? What if I'd brought him up differently? He wasn't really a bad kid growing up."
He thinks back down his family line, wondering when his people stepped from one world into the next. His grandparents, he reckoned, were anchored in regular society.
Kaoss was different after prison, Leigh says. "Jail probably didn't help. It doesn't really, to be honest. You meet all the bad people in there and all that badness rubs off on you."
Of the 23-month sentence, Kaoss served about seven months before early release. His release conditions stipulate he reported by telephone. He was back on the streets of New Plymouth in early March. When April came, Kaoss was a father again.
On the Thursday of Easter Weekend, friends understand, Kaoss led police on a chase around the coast road for about an hour. No one could ever stop him on a rugby field and he brought the same attitude to the road. When he eventually crashed, Kaoss was out of the car and away on foot.
From that point, Kaoss was going back to jail for breaching his release conditions. He would have known it. His freedom would last as long as he could stay out of police hands.
The next day, Jules saw Kaoss for the last time. He popped in, then out again. When he visited, she would ask: "Are you hungry? Do you want a shower? Do you need a sleep?"
Leigh also heard from Kaoss that day. And he heard from police when they raided the house about 8.30pm. By Leigh and Stevie's account, there were about 20 cops with firearms who came down the driveway and over the back fence. "They said, 'We're here for Kaoss'," says Leigh. Stevie recalls police asking: "Is Kaoss here?"
It was Leigh who was taken away, charged with assault and cannabis offences he denies. Leigh and Stevie both see his arrest as part of a plan by police to keep him locked up while they "hunted" Kaoss.
Then came Saturday. Jules' new partner, Popeye, has heard of Kaoss in a fine mood, ferrying friends to and from the pub. There was talk he had done another petrol drive-off, and talk police knew which car he was in, so he swapped it for another.
About 9.30pm, Kaoss was in a two-tone Volkswagen following a female friend in a white BMW from New Plymouth to Waitara. Just beyond the New Plymouth Pistol Club, where police practise shooting, there's a long straight stretch of road at the bottom of hills on either side. It was here a police dog handler pulled up the BMW.
What Kaoss did next is baffling to those who know him. He should have just kept going, they say. As long as he stayed away from cops, he stayed away from prison.
Instead, according to police, he went up the road and pulled a u-turn, gunning it back towards the police vehicle. Once passed it, police say he pulled another u-turn and drove towards the police vehicle. Photographs show scraping along its side.
The Volkswagen came to a stop, slewed across the road on the wrong side. The Herald on Sunday has spoken to three witnesses who heard shots fired, although it is unclear if the sound came before or after the Volkswagen stopped. There are two bullet holes in windows on the passenger side of the car and a possible third in the bonnet.
One witness heading from Waitara to New Plymouth slowed on seeing the flashing lights and stopped when hearing gunfire, about 70m from the Volkswagen.
"It was pitch-black down there. Then Kaoss Price came out of nowhere like a ghost. He ran straight towards my car."
The Herald on Sunday has photographs and video of the scene showing the car driven by this witness would have been the first Kaoss passed. Police have said the wanted man was attempting to take over vehicles. If that was Kaoss' intent, it didn't happen with this vehicle. Possibly Kaoss was foiled when the passenger swung the wheel, moving the car slowly towards the roadside.
"He was running like he was injured. He was sort of on a lean," the witness recalled, watching Kaoss disappear out of sight. "He was definitely running for his life." There was no sign of a weapon. Police later said Kaoss was unarmed.
Then, some seconds later, the eyewitness saw a police dog running down the grass on the opposite side of the road "running towards where Kaoss was". "The dog was fast as, like lightning."
"Then the policeman was running down the middle of the road with his hand and gun right out in front."
First he heard the police officer shouting, aggressively and loudly. Then he heard a shot.
Kaoss didn't make it far and if he was trying to gain access to other vehicles, he had limited opportunities. Beyond the witness were two other cars - a white Suzuki Swift and a blue Hyundai Lantra. Kaoss died next to the Lantra.
The sound of the shot was followed by the BMW driving down the road to where Kaoss was shot. The woman in the car started screaming. A second witness told the Herald on Sunday she could be heard crying: "Why did you do that? Why did you have to do that?"
The initial witness, sitting in his car, heard shouting directed at the woman: "Just go! Get out of here! Just go!"
'Has no one told you?'
"He lived up to his name, I suppose," says Jules. Her pain is raw. She is suffering terribly. Everyone who knew Kaoss is suffering.
The aftermath deepened the pain. Leigh was locked up for the weekend. His son was dead 13 hours before he rang Stevie for a chat and she said: "Has no one told you?" Whanganui Prison director Reti Pearse told the Herald that prison staff were told by police on Saturday night and did not tell Leigh. It was considered "on a human level" to be better he hear the news from Stevie over the phone.
Leigh got off the phone and went back to solitary remand for two more days, alone with thoughts of a son he'd never see again.
For Jules, the thought of her son lying dead on the road cut deep and haunts still. She visited the police cordon and pleaded to be let through, just so she could be close to Kaoss. He lay there for almost two full days.
Stevie broke the news to so many people. She undressed and dressed Kaoss for lying in state. For a young woman, she shouldered a great weight. She's tried to bring light to their home but it remains, she says, shrouded in darkness.
The blanket of pain is thrown wider than those who knew Kaoss personally though. The death, again, of a Māori man at the hands of the state has struck a deep chord. That it would happen in Taranaki, again, brings to the surface the egregious excesses of the Crown's history with Māori in the region.
There was barely suppressed anger from the hordes of gang members who came to New Plymouth for Kaoss' tangi. Ngarewa-Packer was there, as was criminal justice reform advocate Julia Whaipooti.
Those connections spiderwebbed out to draw in others struck by the lonely, unarmed death of a young man. Lawyers Chris Stevenson and Julia Spelman now act for the whānau. With Kaoss' whānau rejecting contact with anyone working for police, they've taken on the task of seeking updates from police. The first substantial update came on Friday.
Spelman said the lawyers' involvement was due to the distrust in which Kaoss' whanau held police. "They acknowledge he wasn't an angel but no one deserves to die like that."
The Herald on Sunday sent detailed questions to police about the death of Kaoss. A spokeswoman said answers could not be given while the police, coronial and IPCA investigations were under way.
New Plymouth councillor Dinnie Moeahu - a mayoral candidate this year - knew Steven Wallace from school and saw him the night he was shot and killed. "The loss is still felt and the pain is still there. Every time there is a shooting, it comes back."
Asked for his view, he says his opinion is not necessary because there is data. "We need to follow the data and the statistics and it shows unconscious bias and negative bias towards Māori."