19 Feb 2015

Firearms policy 'poor' - Police Association

5:07 pm on 19 February 2015

The Police Association says a report into the fatal police shooting of a man in Taranaki in 2013 shows police policy around firearms isn't good enough.

The scene of the fatal police shooting.

The scene of the fatal police shooting. Photo: IPCA

The Independent Police Conduct Authority today released its report into the death of Adam Morehu, who was tasered and shot in the back with a glock pistol at a New Plymouth Golf Course.

The IPCA said the shooting was justified, but other police actions were unplanned, uncoordinated and negligent.

It was 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.

Five of the officers have ongoing employment investigations.

A spokesperson for Mr Morehu's family said while relatives accepted the IPCA findings, they did not wish to comment further.

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said the report showed police policy around firearms was not good enough and needed to be re-worked.

"It's a shame that some of the criticism of the officers doesn't look at the broader issues which clearly are issues around policy, firearms policy, rotation policies etc, because all of these impacted on the very things that the IPCA has criticised."

Mr O'Connor said the officers should be praised for displaying considerable bravery.

Assistant Police Commissioner Allan Boreham said it was a fast-moving and complex incident.

"Our staff were put in a very difficult situation. It's not why you come to work. We come to work to help people, to protect them.

"It's not something that you want to end up having to do, where you have to shoot somebody. But occasionally that does occur."

Mr Boreham said training had changed since the shooting.

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," Police Association president Greg O'Connor said.

"In this case, it culminated in two officers going into a very dangerous situation armed only with Tasers, a very brave act."

The association was continuing to fully support the officers.

A spokesperson for the family of Adam Morehu said it accepted the IPCA's findings and relatives did not wish to comment further.

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.