A Killer Beez gang member who was involved in four South Auckland drive-by shootings in a single day after members of a rival gang stole his motorbike and his patch has been sentenced to seven years and four months' prison.
Michael Crawford, 26, pleaded guilty in May to a shootout on one Ōtara street on November 16, 2020, that resulted in damage to nine homes before targeting three other streets with drive-by shootings on the 20th of that month. He also admitted to helping plan a violent home invasion.
No one was injured in the shootings, which were meant to target members of rival gang the Tribesmen, but the damaged homes included neighbours who were inside at the time and had nothing to do with the gang warfare. Most of the bullet holes examined by police forensics teams appeared to be from high-powered semi-automatic firearms.
Crawford knew or ought to have known that families lived in the area and his actions would put lives in danger, Justice Grant Powell said today as Crawford stood in the dock in the High Court at Auckland.
"It was good luck rather than good management ... that nobody was injured, particularly given the weaponry involved," Powell said.
Justice Powell described the group "led by Mr Crawford" as having felt "they were entitled to storm through communities in Ōtara, shooting wildly and recklessly as if they owned the place".
He referred to the 2020 shootings as a precursor to the "reign of terror" going on across the community currently due to rivalries between the two gangs. Crawford, the judge pointed out, appears to continue his gang allegiance unapologetically.
"We've all watched with dismay at the escalation," defence lawyer Quentin Duff acknowledged while urging the judge not to sentence his client for things that happened after Crawford's arrest.
Crawford's case would have been resolved well before the current uptick in gang violence had it not been for the Covid-19 pandemic slowing the process, Duff noted.
Police said more than two dozen people were believed to have been involved in the shootings. Crawford, however, was described as the "driving force behind the offences" and was directly involved in preparation and planning.
Multiple co-defendants have pleaded not guilty and still await trial.
After the shootings, authorities were able to gain access to a Facebook Messenger group in which multiple people appeared to coordinate the drive-by shootings, including meeting at Crawford's house on the 20th.
On that day, five gang members arrived from Picton, crossing over to the North Island via ferry, and 20 from Hamilton, authorities allege. After a meeting at Crawford's place, three convoys consisting of 10 vehicles left.
One of the shootings that followed was caught on video by a witness. At another shooting location, police recovered a cigarette butt that was found to have Crawford's DNA on it.
A woman and her young children were at one of the homes when people involved in the convoy attempted to force their way inside. The woman told her children to hide upstairs as she called police. Multiple shots were fired at the home while she was on the phone.
When asked via Messenger whether he hit anyone during the various shootings, Crawford told an associate he thought so, adding, "F*** I tried hard g.'"
Crawford also pleaded guilty to being in possession of 71 shotgun cartridges, an "AK-47-like" rifle and material for explosives and to participating in an organised criminal group.
Justice Powell noted that today's hearing marked Crawford's eighth sentencing. He was on electronically monitored bail at the time of the shootings and has been deemed both a high risk of re-offending and a high risk to others.
"There is no sign on your part that you have got any genuine remorse for your offending," he told Crawford.
His lack of remorse and other factors would have called for a minimum period of imprisonment of four years had he not already been in custody since December 2020, Powell said. Without one in place, Crawford should be eligible to apply for parole after serving one-third of the sentence.
Crawford flashed signs at two men in the court gallery as he was led away to begin serving his sentence.