Shargin Stephens felt “police were tormenting him” in the days before he attacked a police car with a slasher and was fatally shot in Rotorua, a witness has told a coroner’s inquest.
The man, who has name suppression, also said he believed the police “enjoyed” putting pressure on Stephens, who was subject to 70 bail checks in 38 days while on electronically monitored bail at his home, sometimes multiple a day and overnight.
The inquest, which began on Monday, follows a 2022 Independent Police Conduct Authority report that found “unreasonable and oppressive” bail checks on Stephens, 35, by police may have contributed to his actions on the day he was fatally shot.
It was previously reported Stephens was Tasered, pepper-sprayed and then shot near Redwood Shopping Centre in Te Ngae on July 14, 2016, after he threatened police and members of the public with a long-handled slasher.
He died 12 days later in Waikato Hospital.
“He could not sleep or do anything without being harassed,” the witness told the inquest on Tuesday.
“It is true that Shargin thought police were tormenting him. They were always at him when he was on bail. They would keep the pressure on until he cracked and then they would lock him up.”
In a statement read to the inquest by Susan Gray, assistant counsel for Stephens’ whānau, the man said
Stephens told him: “Why won’t they leave me alone?” and that the police “won’t let me sleep”.
The man held his head in his hands as the statement was read.
Answering questions from Gray about his statement, the man said Stephens was “sick of being a target” and was ‘‘was really stressed out,” the man said.
“Shargin was a beautiful man with a big heart. Yes, he did crimes but that was more a means to an end.
“Shargin’s other drug was stealing cars. When he died he was trying to stop.”
The man said he believed Stephens could be talked to and reasoned with. He said he did not believe police had to shoot Stephens.
Stephens ‘spaced out’ on day he was shot
A woman, who also has name suppression, told the inquest that when she last saw Stephens on the day of the shooting he looked “spaced out but normal”.
The woman said she and Stephens had smoked methamphetamine the night before.
Under examination by counsel for the police, Amanda Gordon, the woman said Stephens had “a couple of hours’ sleep”.
The woman said she and Stephens each smoked about “half a point bag” of methamphetamine.
Asked by Coroner Michael Robb about the effects of the drug, the woman repeated that Stephens appeared “normal” when she last saw him.
“He didn’t really have that much,” the woman said.
“I thought he was pretty normal. Normally he would be all paranoid or something.”
‘I had no means of protecting myself’ - officer
A police witness told the inquest Stephens attacked an empty police car about 100 metres from his home with a round weight and a long-handled slasher.
All police witnesses have name suppression.
In a statement to the inquest, the officer said he had pulled over on Vaughan Rd because he had heard a bump and thought he had run over something.
The officer said he left the keys in the ignition while he got out to check the car and saw Stephens walking toward him.
“He raised his arm and threw the weight at the rear window of the patrol vehicle,” the officer said.
“I took a step towards him and he brought the slasher into view.
“With the slasher in both hands, he first started breaking the light bar on the roof of the vehicle.”
The officer said Stephens then broke both side windows of the police car.
“He wasn’t focused on me so I didn’t speak to him,” the officer said.
“I had no means of protecting myself. My best bet was to get back in the vehicle and get the vehicle away from him. I didn’t want to give him access to the gun safe.
“He never said one word to me throughout. The one time that he looked at me was as he approached and he just gave me a look that’s hard to describe.”
‘A hate against police’
The officer got back into his vehicle and drove away from Stephens.
“He crossed the road. I turned around and I started to follow him.”
The officer said he had no idea then what Stephens’ intentions were.
“He still had the slasher.”
Counsel for the Stephens’ family, Charl Hirschfeld, asked the officer whether Stephens looked unwell.
“No. There was no indication of that. His skin colour was normal. He wasn’t sweating.”
In response to further questions from Hirschfeld, the officer said there was “no aggression” in Stephens’ manner when he approached the police car.
“He was walking calmly down the road towards me. There was no abuse being thrown.”
Hirschfeld asked the officer if his assessment of the situation took into account other issues “quite apart from law enforcement” such as mental health issues.
“You have the benefit of hindsight, sir. In that situation, you don’t have the luxury of time,” the officer said.
He said instincts, training and “massive adrenaline” kicked in.
“I was dealing with a gentleman who had a hate against police,” the officer said.
“Not everyone decides to damage a police vehicle.
“[Leaving] was my only option. I certainly wasn’t going to confront him. I wasn’t going to speak to him to draw his attention to me. He was extremely focused.”
The inquest will continue hearing from police witnesses tomorrow.
Maryana Garcia is a regional reporter writing for the Rotorua Daily Post and the Bay of Plenty Times. She covers local issues, health and crime.