21 Nov 2023

Shargin Stephens inquest: 70 bail checks did not raise red flags, officer says

6:46 am on 21 November 2023
Shargin Stephens was shot by police in 2016

Shargin Stephens was shot by police in 2016 Photo: RNZ/Vinay Ranchhod

Seventy bail checks in 38 days was not harassment, a police officer has told an inquest into the fatal shooting of a man in Rotorua.

Shargin Stephens, a 35-year-old Māori man, was shot by police in 2016.

In the first day of the inquiry into the circumstances of his death, police asserted that targeting him actively was necessary to prevent further harm to the community.

Coroner Michael Robb opened the inquiry by acknowledging the presence of Stephens' family and expressing condolences for their grief.

"This is a difficult day for whānau. It's been a long time coming and I acknowledge that, and you'll be aware that there are multiple reasons for it but that doesn't make it easier.

"The longer it takes to reach an inquest the more that aggravates grief."

In the courtroom, members of Stephen's whānau were emotional, sometimes shaking their heads after witness statements.

Before his death, police checked Stephens' bail 70 times in just over a month, alongside electronic monitoring.

The original Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) report from 2017 deemed the bail checks "reasonable" and unrelated to Stephens' actions on the day of the incident.

However, in 2022, discrepancies revealed by RNZ prompted a new IPCA report, this time suggesting that the bail checks might have been excessive and played a role in the shooting.

In the inquiry, assistant counsel appearing for Stephens' whānau, Susan Gray, questioned the reasons behind the number of checks done on Stephen.

"[Imagine] police officers constantly turning up to your home with the frequency they did with Shargin and not conducting a valid bail check. That would be harassment, wouldn't it?

A police officer, granted name suppression, denied this.

"I don't call it harassment. You are prompting me to say that I know that they harassed him, [but] I don't know if they harassed him.

"My expectation is that [police] go there and check [people on bail] for a valid reason. That's the expectation that we have on [them]."

In his statement, the officer said Stephens "was deemed to be a person the police needed to actively target to prevent further community harm".

He said although responsible for overseeing bail checks done by frontline staff, the heavy workload was a hindrance to monitoring the frequency of the checks.

"There is quite a volume to be checked and, going line by line through checks, there was the ability but not the capability, no."

Another police officer, also with name suppression, mentioned that excessive bail visits did not raise any red flags.

"Mr Stevens and his associates were a significant criminal problem for us as a community.

"One of the only things that we have available to us once someone is granted bail is to try and limit the movement and actions by bail checks."

The checks were one of the few mechanisms available for police to ensure bail compliance, the witness said.

The officer acknowledged that bail checks were sometimes conducted to "keep an eye" or "send a message" to offenders.

"That is how bail management works."

Of all 70 bail checks done by police at Stephens' home, only 21 had notes related to his sobriety from alcohol and drugs, Gray said.

The officer said it was quite common for staff to note the breach rather than the compliance.

"Just because someone hasn't been breathalysed or drug tested doesn't mean an assessment wasn't taken.

"It's quite common for staff to note the breach rather than the compliance. If we were to go about our business and make notes of everything that was correct that would be very, very time-consuming."

The officer told the counsel for police, Amanda Gordon, that Stephens was constantly being checked to avoid his access to alcohol and drugs, when he was more likely to re-offend.

"Experience has shown the police that it can be common for persons on bail to breach their conditions of bail and to do what they want after they have been checked.

"If you check them at 9pm for example, then there is nothing stopping them or their associates turning up afterwards...

"It is for this reason that more than one check is often conducted."

The inquest is set to resume, with members of Stephens' family scheduled to be heard by the Coroner.

The proceedings will continue until the end of the month.

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