A man who died after being shot in a suburban Auckland reserve on the weekend was a patched Head Hunter, the Herald can reveal, as police raise concerns about gang tensions in different parts of the country erupting into more public displays of violence.
Gang member Charles Pongi took himself to hospital after he was shot in Pt England’s Taurima Reserve on Saturday afternoon. His injuries proved fatal and he died in Auckland Hospital later on Saturday.
It comes as police search for the alleged killers of at least three fatal shootings in less than a week, with senior detectives describing the public violence as reckless and deplorable.
Saturday’s killing in Auckland was one of two gang-related homicides during the weekend.
On Sunday, a young father was also gunned down at a home in Croydon Ave, Palmerston North in what police described as a “senseless” attack and later confirmed was linked to gang tensions in the area.
Later on the day Pongi was killed, another man - believed to be a patched member of the Rebels motorcycle gang - took himself to Middlemore Hospital to seek treatment for a gunshot wound.
Armed police were seen standing guard outside the hospital following his admission.
Yesterday, police were also appealing for information about a shooting in Gisborne last Friday where shotgun pellets were fired at a home with a woman and her children inside, breaking a window. Police believe the incident was gang-related.
Meanwhile, Auckland police are still hunting for Dariush Talagi, who is wanted in connection with another fatal shooting downtown on Queen St last Thursday night.
Sione Tuuholoaki, one of two men shot from a car near the Fort St intersection, died in hospital the following day.
Detective Inspector Glenn Baldwin said an investigation team was still trying to uncover the circumstances and those involved in the shooting at Taurima Reserve.
“This reckless violence especially, when it happens in public spaces, is deplorable to police and the public. Our team is working with determination in this investigation to identify the parties involved.”
A traumatised mother told the Herald her young children witnessed the apparent gang shootout in the East Auckland reserve.
“That evening I had to tell the children what they saw was not a game, that it was real life. The reserve has a playground, kids go there.”
Pongi was a member of the Head Hunters East chapter based in the gang’s traditional heartland of Glen Innes, one suburb over from the reserve where he suffered the fatal gunshot wound.
Police have launched a homicide investigation and are still hunting for his killer.
The Herald can reveal Pongi was shot during a fracas between two groups of people linked respectively to the Head Hunters and Rebels gangs.
The confrontation came amid a fresh feud between the two outlaw motorcycle clubs, who until recently had been on relatively good terms.
It is unclear what exactly is driving the conflict, but Saturday’s deadly clash was not the first time the simmering tensions between the two gangs had boiled over into a public confrontation.
When asked by the Herald yesterday about the spate of recent shootings, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins defended the Government’s record on law and order and cited initiatives including the new firearms register, recently criticised over a leak of gun-owners personal information.
“I believe the public have reason to be confident in the work the Government has done around crime,” Hipkins said. “There’s always more to be done in the law and order space ... I don’t think what we’re seeing at the moment is acceptable.”
Hipkins said he had not personally been briefed by police on last week’s Auckland shootings, but he expected the Police Minister Ginny Andersen had.
Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown also announced yesterday he had met with Andersen and Councillor Josephine Bartley about safety in the Super City.
“We had a constructive conversation about improving safety in Auckland and the need for a joined-up approach,” he said.
Auckland, meanwhile, was marked down on addressing safety in a new report by UK-based urban intelligence firm The Business of Cities released today.
Late last month, armed police also swooped on Auckland’s Sylvia Park shopping centre to reports of a scrap in a food court where at least one party was wielding a knife.
Two people were arrested, aged 20 and 21, both related to each other and with ties to the Rebels.
They appeared in the Auckland District Court on July 26 facing charges of fighting in a public place and possessing a knife.
The Head Hunters MC were formed in the late 1960s in Glen Innes, East Auckland, initially as more of a street gang than a motorcycle club.
Its president Wayne Doyle would later say MC stood for “mad c***” rather than motorcycle club.
The gang later moved to West Auckland.
An “East” chapter was set up after Doyle’s release from prison in the 1990s and remains headquartered at the Fight Club 88 boxing gym in Ellerslie’s Marua Rd.
The Rebels are originally an Australian MC and are considered one of Australia’s largest bikie gangs and criminal enterprises.
They set up shop in New Zealand more than a decade ago and their ranks have recently been bolstered by prominent 501 deportees from across the ditch.
One of their number set up the Rebels Māngere chapter after he was deported in 2020.
The following year, that chapter became embroiled in a violent tit-for-that clash with the King Cobras (KCs) characterised by shootings and fire bombings.
The KCs were aggrieved at the Rebels encroaching on their traditional Māngere turf and their use of the “Māngere” rocker label on their patches.
Around the same time, the Head Hunters and Mongols MC - another overseas outlaw biker gang that set up in New Zealand more recently - became embroiled in a feud over the later club’s attempt to set up a chapter in North Auckland.
That gang war culminated in a high-profile shooting at swanky Auckland viaduct hotel the Sofitel.
Detective Inspector Glenn Baldwin, of Auckland City CIB, confirmed multiple shots were fired during the altercation at the reserve on Saturday.
“This reckless violence especially, when it happens in public spaces, is deplorable to police and the public,” he said.
“Our team is working with determination in this investigation to identify the parties involved.”
Baldwin asked anyone with footage captured either on their phones or home CCTV systems to come forward.
“We know a number of men assembled near both ends of Taurima Reserve, prior to the incident on Saturday afternoon, and shortly afterwards a number of vehicles fled the area after shots were fired,” he said.
“Police are aware that people in the community will have footage of the incident, either on CCTV or their phones, and this is a valuable way for members of the community to assist us to hold people to account.”
A post-mortem for Pongi was set to be conducted on Monday.
On Monday afternoon, police said they were following “positive lines of inquiry” in their investigation into the gang-related killing of a man in Palmerston North on Sunday.
More police have been brought into the area amid mounting gang tensions, said Inspector Ross Grantham said, the Manawatū Area Commander.
“Now is the time for cool heads and clear thinking, keeping everyone safe and allowing police to complete their investigation and apprehend those responsible for the senseless death of the young father,” Grantham said.
Anyone with information or footage on the Pt England homicide was asked to contact police on 105 quoting the file number 230805/0100.