The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found no evidence of misconduct by Police in relation to the shooting of Steven James Wallace in Waitara on 30 April 2000.
The Authority found that Senior Constable Keith Abbott and Constable Jason Dombroski were justified in arming themselves in response to a series of violent actions by Steven directed at property and at people. He had smashed the windscreen of a Police car with a golf club, narrowly missing a constable’s head, and had smashed the driver’s window of a taxi, leaving the driver in fear for his life. He had also driven at speed towards another person.
When Senior Constable Abbott and Constable Dombroski confronted Steven, he advanced rapidly towards them, armed with a golf club and a baseball bat, making threats to kill. Senior Constable Abbott fired a warning shot and, when Steven continued to advance towards him, the officer then fired four shots at him. Witnesses stated that Steven did not fall after the first two shots.
In accordance with the verdict in a private prosecution brought by the Wallace family against Senior Constable Abbott, the Authority found that the officer was acting to defend himself and others, within the meaning of section 48 of the Crimes Act 1961 and consistent with the Police policy on use of firearms.
“Steven Wallace was shot, not because he had broken windows, or because he was resisting or escaping from arrest, but because Senior Constable Abbott had reasonable grounds to fear for his own life and for that of Constable Dombroski,” said Authority Chair Justice Lowell Goddard.
The Authority’s report follows an independent, wide-ranging investigation into Police conduct in relation to the shooting and subsequent Police actions. The investigation considered a large number of issues raised by the Wallace family after August 2007, when the Coroner reported on Steven’s death.
The Authority found no evidence to support an allegation that Senior Constable Abbott had attended a social function on the evening before the shooting. However, it recommended that the Police adopt a policy on drug and alcohol testing of officers involved in critical incidents.
The Authority found that there was a lack of communication between Senior Constable Abbott and Constable Dombroski before they confronted Steven, and that the officers technically breached Police General Instructions by not signing the Firearms Register when arming themselves. However, these breaches reflected the urgency of the situation they were responding to.
The Authority also found that Police should have done more to comfort Steven after he was shot, but expert medical opinion confirmed this would not have saved his life.
As explained in the Authority’s report, the Authority’s predecessor (the Police Complaints Authority) made a public commitment in 2000 that it would not report on the shooting until all Police investigations, court hearings and coroner’s hearings had been completed.
The Coroner reported in September 2007, and the Wallace family subsequently raised a large number of issues with the Authority and asked that these be considered before the Authority reported. Following this request, the Authority conducted a new, wide-ranging investigation. The Authority no longer has a policy of always waiting for coroners to report before issuing its own findings.
Justice Goddard has previously expressed regret that the Authority’s investigation remained to be completed several years after Steven’s death.