The shooting of Mr Joel Buckley by Police on 14 July 2021
The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that Police officers were legally justified in shooting a man, Joel Buckley, in Hamilton on 14 July 2021 in self-defence.
On 9 July 2021, Police received two calls from a person who was concerned that Mr Buckley had illegal firearms and was planning to seriously harm or kill the new partner of his estranged wife. Police did not take any action in relation to these calls until 12 July 2021, when they contacted Mr Buckley’s estranged wife. She reported that Mr Buckley was planning to kill members of the public and Police. With this information, Police formulated a plan to arrest Mr Buckley.
When Mr Buckley arrived at his home address on the evening of 14 July 2021, Police attempted to arrest him. However, Mr Buckley shot at the officers without warning using a military-style semi-automatic rifle. The officers returned fire, and Mr Buckley was killed.
The Authority has found that Police were justified in shooting at Mr Buckley in self-defence and the officers showed significant courage and professionalism in performing their duties; had they not acted as they did, then it is possible others could have been injured or killed.
In addition to the shooting of Mr Buckley, the Authority also considered three other issues.
Calls to Police on 9 July 2021
Both calls to Police on 9 July 2021 informed Police that Mr Buckley had threatened to seriously harm his estranged wife’s new partner and that he was in possession of illegal firearms. However, the Authority found that the call taker failed to record reference to Mr Buckley’s possession of illegal firearms and failed to correctly categorise the call so that it could be prioritised. This resulted in Police not taking any action sooner.
Return of firearms to Mr Buckley
In December 2017, Police seized two firearms owned by Mr Buckley that he had passed to a friend who did not have a firearms licence. Police subsequently returned the firearms to Mr Buckley in May 2018. One of those firearms was used against Police on 14 July 2021, and the other has not been located. The Firearms Officer directly involved provided two different accounts explaining why the firearms were returned to Mr Buckley.
By either account, the Authority is critical that the firearms were returned to Mr Buckley and considers this was a serious error.
Failure by Police to investigate concerns about Mr Buckley
In August 2019, January 2021, and February 2021, Police observed behaviour on the part of Mr Buckley that raised concerns about his fitness to possess firearms, but Police made no inquiries.
The first occasion was in August 2019 when Mr Buckley attended a firearms Buy Back event in Te Kuiti, where a Police employee became concerned about Mr Buckley’s appearance and behaviour. The second occasion was in January 2021 when Mr Buckley attended the Hamilton Police Station on a firearms licensing matter, and the Police employee who served him was also concerned about his demeanour.
Then, in February 2021, two Police officers who visited Mr Buckley’s home were so concerned about his demeanour that they video recorded the encounter and sent the footage to the Hamilton Firearms Licensing Office.
The Authority is critical of Police for failing to make any inquiries after these encounters with Mr Buckley. On each occasion, Police became concerned about Mr Buckley’s behaviour in the context of firearms, yet no enquiries were made into his fitness to possess firearms.
“Police showed commendable courage and professionalism on the night of 14 July 2021. They were shot at without warning by a man with an illegally-owned military-style semi-automatic rifle, and only by luck and good training were they spared injury or worse. Their fast actions prevented death or serious injury.
But, in other respects, this case showed serious errors by Police failing to follow up concerns they had about Mr Buckley, and they should have acted on those concerns on 9 July 2021. Also, by handing firearms back to Mr Buckley that had been previously seized in 2017, Police made a serious error,” said Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty.