4 Apr 2012

Police facing legal action over motorway shooting

5:34 am on 4 April 2012

The family of a teenager mistakenly killed by police on an Auckland motorway in 2009 is to sue for damages. A man wounded during the incident is also planning legal action.

Courier driver Halatau Naitoko, 17, was killed and Richard Neville injured after being caught in the crossfire as members of the Armed Offenders Squad were pursuing fleeing gunman Stephen McDonald who was on a drug-fuelled rampage on the north-western motorway in 2009.


The Coroner has criticised the police's handling of the case, while an Independent Police Conduct Authority report issued on Tuesday has reached similar conclusions and recommends seven areas for improvement.

The IPCA report found that, while the actions of two officers who fired at McDonald were justified, there were significant problems with the operation.

Colin Pidgeon, QC, the lawyer for Halatau Naitoko's family, says the report highlights major concerns about the actions of the officer who fired the fatal shot, known only as Officer 84.

"The family have instructed me to issue proceedings in the High Court claiming damages against the police for breach of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. And in particular, the section in the act that deals with the right to life."

Mr Pidgeon says legal proceedings will be filed within the month, but will not say how much money the family intends to claim for.

Richard Neville's lawyer Nicholas Taylor says his client will take a private prosecution alleging a charge of careless use of a firearm causing injury.

Mr Taylor told Checkpoint on Tuesday the IPCA report indicates that the officer acted in an unsafe way and has fallen below the standard of a reasonably competent Armed Offenders Squad member.

Mr Taylor says investigators did not even interview Mr Neville for the report.

Meanwhile, Halatau Naitoko's mother says she wants to know the name of the man who fired the fatal shot.

Ivoni Fuimaono sent Officer 84 a letter on the anniversary of her son's death, but has not had any response.

Ms Fuimaono made a plea on Tuesday for the officer to come forward as they are connected in Halatau's life - she gave birth to him and Officer 84 took his life away.

Assistant Police Commissioner Allan Boreham says it is up to the officer to decide whether he wishes to meet Ms Fuimaono.

Police say changes have been made

Police on Tuesday reiterated they have made a range of changes in the wake of the accidental shooting and, while they regret the tragedy, the AOS officers' actions have been shown to be justified.

Assistant Commissioner Allan Boreham says officers acted courageously while dealing with a dangerous gunman.

Changes to AOS procedures since the incident include staffing numbers for armed police callouts in Auckland and training.

Mr Boreham says today is another opportunity to express how deeply police regret Halatau Naitoko's death.

"This is something that has really deeply affected us - it's not why we wake up in the morning and go out to do work.

"We go out to protect people, not to have people harmed. And I believe it would be highly unlikely that this type of event would ever occur again."

The officer who fired the fatal shot is still with the police.