21 Nov 2023

Shargin Stephens 'constantly harassed' by police, witness tells inquest

6:01 pm on 21 November 2023
Shargin Stephens was shot by police in 2016

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

Police had relentlessly attempted to "crack" Shargin Stephens by bail-checking him several times a day, a witness revealed in the inquest into his death.

Stephens, a 35-year-old Māori man, was shot dead by police in Rotorua in 2016 after vandalising an empty patrol car with a weed slasher.

In the 38 days before his death, he was bail-checked by police 70 times, sometimes in the middle of the night, while he was also being electronically monitored.

During the second day of the inquiry into the circumstances of his death, a witness who spent Stephens' final day with him gave an emotional statement at the Coroner's Court in Rotorua.

The man, under name suppression, appeared via video call. He was emotional and kept his head down during most of his testimony.

He stated that Stephens only wanted to go to work because that was where he felt free and safe from police harassment.

"[He was being] constantly harassed, the day before [the day of his death], and the day before [that], and all he wanted to do was go to work.

"Because that's the only place he could be free, at work, you know? [With] no one harassing him."

In his statement, read out by police counsel Amanda Gordon, the witness said Stephens was trying to turn his life around, but excessive police checks were hindering him.

"It is true that Shargin thought police were tormenting him, [and] I agree with this. [The police] were always at him when he was on bail. They knew it was a way of getting at him.

"I thought it was a game the cops played with [Stephens]. They would keep the pressure on until he'd cracked, then they would lock him up.

"I thought it was what [the police] must have enjoyed, like a game to them," the statement read.

Another witness at the inquest stated that every second day there were midnight bail checks, and they could see him getting on-edge.

"[Stephens] tried his best not to let the number of bail checks bother him, but it was, you could see the pressure building."

They said police would purposely park in front of Stephen's house to "bother him".

"The [police] wagon was just parked up across the road from [his] house, and this used to bother Shargin.

"He would say to me 'Are they just trying to set me up by parking out there and making me look bad to everyone?"

They said Stephens had his problems with the police, but he was a good man.

"I think it is fair to say that Shargin did not like [the] police, but he knew that when he screwed up, he had to deal with them.

"I cannot accept that all those bail checks needed to happen. They were just used as a punishment, a way to get at Shargin.

"I want the police to tell the truth about all the extra bail checks they did, all the harassment of Shargin in the weeks leading up to him being shot.

The witness said the loss of Stephens should be used as a reason to review police standard responses.

"There is nothing we can do to bring Shargin back, but I would hate to think that Shargin being shot is something that could happen again.

"[I'd hate to think] that no lesson has been learned at all, that nothing went wrong, that there is nothing else that could have happened."

The trial will resume tomorrow with the police officer involved in the shooting set to give his statement to Coroner Michael Robb.

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