The Dim-Post

January 26, 2009

Second Guessing

Filed under: general news — danylmc @ 7:09 am

I/S argues that the AOS officer responsible for the death of Halatau Naitoko should stand trial:

Look at the precedents: hunters kill their mates in tragic accidents fairly frequently. They are usually made to stand trial for careless use of a firearm, or in cases where there is clear negligence, manslaughter. Some are discharged, some are convicted, some end up on home detention, some (in very serious cases) end up in jail. We do this, despite the tragic circumstances, because we as a society have decided that people who play with guns need to exercise the utmost care and responsibility when doing so.

The same rules should apply to the police. Otherwise, it looks awfully like there is one law for them, and another they enforce on us. And we’ve had quite enough of that already.

The problem with this analogy is that the police are legally required to place themselves in harms way in order to protect the public and they’re authorised to use deadly force in such circumstances. In this case there really is one law for the police and another for everyone else.

If the investigations into the incident reveal the police were acting in an irresponsible manner then I think there should be a prosecution – but based on the dramatic account in today’s Herald that doesn’t sound like the case:

Herald inquiries to police yesterday revealed that armed offenders squad members on the side of the motorway fired towards the truck and the centre of the road.

The van, in which Halatau Naitoko was sitting, was in the line of fire. Altogether the police fired five shots, one by an officer with a Glock pistol and four by two armed offenders squad members with M4 rifles.

One of the M4 bullets killed 17-year-old Halatau. Other shots hit the truck and shrapnel wounded driver Richard Neville and the pursued gunman.

Last night, an emotional Mr Neville was in no doubt that the police had saved his life. He said the 50-year-old gunman had moments earlier stood in front of his truck and pointed the gun at him to stop him.

Mr Neville, 40, said he tried to run the offender down but the man ran to the side of the truck and leaped on the back in an apparent hijack attempt.

The gunman then aimed his .22 sawn-off Ruger rifle at him through the cab window, he said.

As armed offenders squad members shouted orders to the offender, Mr Neville hit his brakes in an attempt to slam the man into the back of the cab.

The next thing he knew there was a series of shots, with glass and bullet fragments flying everywhere.

Obviously the police shouldn’t be shooting when there are civilians in their field of fire, but if they hadn’t opened fire they may have been in a position where they were being held responsible for Richard Neville’s death instead.


  1. I was previously critical of the police in your earlier post, but, given these facts, I think I can see here a valid explanation, and one which would exonerate the officer.

    As a former hunter with experience of shooting at moving targets, I know that the shooter ‘tracks’ a moving target (in this case the offender on the back of the truck), moving his aim along with the target so that the bullet and target collide at point X.

    In this case, the driver appears to have slammed on the brakes just as the police fired, which would have resulted in the police bullet(s) ending up just in front of point X where the target would have been if it hadn’t stopped …. i.e. right into the cab of the vehicle!

    I feel a little silly. Its always best to be in posession of the facts before blurting out – and there may well be have been no negligence at all, simply a tragic set of circumstances which could not have been avoided. Anyway, hopefully there will be a full enquiry which will get to the bottom of this sad event.

    Comment by Dave Mann — January 26, 2009 @ 8:29 am

  2. “Herald inquiries to police yesterday revealed …”

    That’s not the result of investigative journalism. That’s the police off the record, getting their version of events into the media, ASAP. Which is what you’d expect them to do.

    I’ll wait for the independent inquiry. And hope that it is not swayed by spin. It’s not so much a question of the officer who pulled the trigger, but whether the police action was standard procedure in an environment full of innocent parties, and whether it should be.

    Comment by sammy — January 26, 2009 @ 12:31 pm

  3. This post contains some very interesting conclusions that do not reflect you normal reasoning diligence.

    Nobody knows what could have happened and the fact that the police had to take action is true.

    However the assertion that “if they hadn’t opened fire they may have been in a position where they were being held responsible for Richard Neville’s death instead.” is a conclusion not supported by the currently available info.

    Police shootouts are notorious for the inaccuracy of the shots. This case is no exception in that at least 5 rounds were fired by Police of which none hit the intended target (gunman treated for scrapnel wounds only thus 100% miss rate)

    Dave Mann’s apologise for his previous comment and then paints a mental picture of single precision shot gone tragically astray because of some external factor (eg vehicle braking) indicating that that bullet would enter the truck’s cabin. I agree that the tracking of the target and a sudden stop would result in the bullet entering the cabin. What Dave missed however is that the person that was shot was not in that cabin but in a different vehicle, a vehicle that presumably drove into the line of fire.

    The Police officer that pulled the trigger in the fatal shot may or may not have been aware of a vehicle behind his target (depending on tracking, scope and the speed of the van) but the person that gave the “open fire” order must have been, or be in a position to call it of.

    So yes at least three different officers shot at least 5 rounds (four rounds from two rifles and one round from a pistol that we know of).

    Could as easily have been two innocent bystanders shot (sounds like Richard Neville came closer to being hit by Police than by the gunman.)

    A single hunter and a team of trained Police officers are not the same. The hunter is solely responsible for his action; the Police team have different people that give orders to shoot orders to stop shooting. Different vantage points of different players should be such that the tragic mistakes of the lone hunter do not play out.

    And yes this team approach is so successful that this is the first fatal shooting of a bystander in NZ. Yet it went wrong, there still is a why beyond a single shot and a single shooter.

    Comment by cj_nza — January 26, 2009 @ 3:08 pm

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