An Independent Police Conduct Authority report released today found that the Police officer who fatally shot Adam Morehu was justified in doing so because he believed Mr Morehu was armed and feared for the safety of himself and other officers.
However, in its report the Authority criticises the actions of a number of individual officers in the period immediately preceding the shooting and attributes those failings to inadequacies in the command and control of the incident.
In the early hours of Saturday 8 June 2013 Police were called to a burglary at the New Plymouth Golf Club. A Police dog handler was the first to respond to the incident at around 4am and after confirming the break in he used his Police dog to track the offenders. The officer soon located the two offenders, Adam Morehu and Kevin Bishell, and informed the Police communications centre that the pair were on a motorbike on the golf course. The dog handler then released his dog and while subsequently attempting to subdue both men, he was fired upon by Mr Morehu. The dog handler retreated a short distance with Mr Bishell and his dog.
Another officer arrived at the golf course shortly after and, following an attempt to confront Mr Morehu, he also retreated. Further officers then began arriving at the scene. During this time there was limited radio communication and no overall command and control of the officers on the ground.
Eventually four officers converged on Mr Morehu in order to confront him. Only one of the officers was armed with a firearm, two others were equipped with Tasers. The officers repeatedly appealed to Mr Morehu to drop his gun and when he failed to do so Mr Morehu was Tasered. Almost simultaneously, an officer who had been positioned on a bank above Mr Morehu, approached the scene and, fearing for the safety of his fellow officers, he fired his Glock hitting Mr Morehu.
At this point Mr Morehu fell to the ground and Police believed he was resisting attempts to handcuff him. He was then punched by one officer and hit in the head four times by another officer with a Police torch before he was successfully handcuffed. Following this Police officers identified a wound on Mr Morehu’s lower back and, a short time later, he became unresponsive and stopped breathing. Police and, subsequently, paramedics continued CPR until paramedics determined that further resuscitation attempts were futile. Mr Morehu was pronounced dead by paramedics at 5:07am.
Mr Bishell was transported to New Plymouth Police station and later charged with a number of offences relating to the incident.
In releasing today’s report Independent Police Conduct Authority Chair, Judge Sir David Carruthers said the general duties officers involved, none of whom had previous experience or substantial training in dealing with an armed offender in such a situation, were faced with a very difficult set of circumstances.
“The officers were faced with an active shooter, in an open area, in a semirural location, with negligible lighting and minimal information about potential co-offenders and the status of one of their colleagues. The Authority accepts that those officers, faced with an active shooter, felt compelled to act and were justified in arming themselves.
“However, the Authority found the actions of the officers involved were unplanned and uncoordinated. The officers failed to communicate effectively with each other, and they entered a dangerous situation at risk of being injured without properly arming themselves or wearing their ballistic body armour,” Sir David said.
“Poor communication and a lack of command and control during this incident contributed to the events that unfolded. There was no effective coordination by the communications centre nor any leadership in the field. This impacted on the effectiveness of the Police response to the incident and resulted in the officers involved making decisions that put themselves and their colleagues at unnecessary risk of harm.”
The Authority notes that Police are currently conducting employment investigations with respect to five of the Police officers involved in the incident.
Fatal Police shooting of Adam Morehu (PDF 920 KB)