19 Feb 2015

Police response in shooting 'uncoordinated'

1:15 pm on 19 February 2015

The actions of police before they fatally shot a man in New Plymouth were unplanned and uncoordinated, the police watchdog says.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority today released its report into the death of Adam Morehu, who was shot and killed during a police callout in 2013.

The scene of the fatal police shooting.

The scene of the fatal police shooting. Photo: IPCA

The authority has found the officer who shot him was justified in doing so.

However, it is critical of a number of individual police officers because of inadequacies in the command and control of the incident.

Authority chair Judge Sir David Carruthers said poor communication contributed to the events that unfolded and there was no leadership in the field.

What happened

Police were called to a burglary at the New Plymouth Golf Club early on Saturday 8 June, 2013. Adam Morehu was soon located with another man, Kevin Bishell.

Mr Morehu was armed with a rifle and shot at officers in what they have called an "extremely fast-moving, challenging and complex" callout.

He was eventually tasered and shot twice with a police glock pistol over the space of ten seconds.

Mr Morehu was then punched and hit in the head four times with a police torch by officers who thought he was resisting arrest when he fell to the ground after he was shot.

He started frothing at the mouth while he was being handcuffed, and it was then that a bullet wound was found.

It was found the bullets caused extensive damage to his chest wall, lung and a major artery - and either of the wounds alone were enough to kill Mr Morehu.

The authority's findings

Judge Sir David Carruthers.

Judge Sir David Carruthers. Photo: RNZ

The Independent Police Conduct Authority said there was "clear and specific evidence" of the threat of death of harm from the time Mr Morehu fired his gun at an officer.

It said officers who responded were faced with an active shooter in an open and semi-rural area, with hardly any lighting and minimal information.

But it said officers failed to communicate effectively with each other and went into a dangerous situation without properly arming themselves or wearing body armour.

Five of the officers are still involved in employment investigations.

The authority has found one officer, known as Officer B, was negligent by not giving the police communications centre a situation report and warning his colleagues about the serious risk of harm.

It also found he should not have turned off his police radio during the callout.

It said this meant Officer B missed vital information and that he failed to act in a manner reasonably expected of an experienced, well-trained and professional officer.

The authority said his actions on the day highlighted the absence of any tactical plan, did not comply with policy or good practice and lacked sound reasoning and judgement.

However, it has found Officer B was justified in shooting Mr Morehu in order to remove the threat of death of serious harm.

It said it is unable to conclude whether another officer, Officer H, used excessive force when he used his police torch to strike Mr Morehu.

The report also found the shift commander at the Police communications centre did not take command and control according to policy, and that another officer did not use his initiative to take control at the scene.

The authority said the absence of command and control resulted in staff at the scene making decisions that put themselves and fellow officers at unnecessary risk of harm.

Police and family respond

Responding to the IPCA report, police said officers had no choice but to resort to firearms to protect themselves and others because they feared for their lives.

But they accept the authority's view that there were failings and that steps have been taken at both an individual and organisational level.

The Police Association said the finding that the shooting was justified has been welcomed by officers involved.

It said technical criticisms around policy breaches were "an unfortunate distraction from the pertinent aspect of the report".

"Poor firearms policy saw police vehicles with different combinations of firearm arriving at the scene. It also results in officers having to access locked firearms in an urgent and stressful situation.

"In this case, it culminated in two officers going into a very dangerous situation armed only with Tasers, a very brave act," association president Greg O'Connor said. The association was continuing to fully support the officers.

A spokesperson for the family of Adam Morehu said relatives were still digesting the report and were not yet able to comment.

Timeline of events on 8 June 2013.

  • 3.55am - Police dog handler, Officer A, dispatched by CentComms to alarm activation at New Plymouth Golf Club.
  • 4.00am - Security guard arrives at the golf course entrance shortly before Officer A.
  • 4.02am - Officer A confirms a break-in at the golf club and subsequently begins tracking.
  • 4.17am - Officer A informs CentComms that he has located the offenders on a motorcycle.
  • 4.19am - Officer B arrives at the entrance to the golf course.
  • 4.19am - Mr Morehu fires a single gunshot at Officer A.
  • 4.20am - Security guard leaves the golf course.
  • 4.20am - Officer B reports that there is an armed offender.
  • 4.23am - Officer D arrives at the golf course entrance shortly followed by Officer E.
  • 4.25am - Officer E speaks to Officer A and advises CentComms that shots have been fired.
  • 4.26am - AOS paged by CentComms.
  • 4.27am Officer E approaches and fires her Taser at Mr Morehu.
  • 4.28am - Officers G and H arrive at the entrance of the golf course.
  • 4.28am - Officer E requests the attendance of an ambulance.
  • 4.29am - Officers E, G, H, and D approach Mr Morehu from the front. Officer B gets up from his position and begins his approach of Mr Morehu from the rear.
  • 4.29:30am - Officer G fires his Taser at Mr Morehu.
  • 4.29:36am - Officer E fires her Taser at Mr Morehu.
  • 4.29:36am - Officer B fires a single shot from his Glock at Mr Morehu.
  • 4.29:38am - Officer G fires his Taser at Mr Morehu.
  • 4.29:40am - Officer B fires a second shot from his Glock at Mr Morehu.
  • 4.29:44am - Mr Morehu falls to the ground.
  • 4.30am - Officers H and E each make a request for urgent ambulance attendance.
  • 4.30am - Officers I and J arrive at the entrance to the golf course.
  • 4.36am - An ambulance arrives at the entrance of the golf course and paramedics are taken to the scene.
  • 4.41am - A second ambulance arrives at the golf course.
  • 4.54am - A paramedic notices a firearm on the ground and seeks confirmation from Officer E that Mr Morehu has been shot.
  • 5.05am - Paramedics locate the bullet wound to Mr Morehu's lower back, confirming that he has been shot.
  • 5.07am - Mr Morehu is pronounced dead by paramedics at the scene.