The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that the tactical decision-making and control and command exercised by Police in response to shots fired near Kawerau on 9 March 2016 was highly flawed and placed Police officers at risk. The Authority also found that Police were justified in shooting at Rhys Warren in the circumstances.
At approximately 10:50am, the Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) was called to two adjacent rural properties on Onepu Spring Road in response to a report from a Police officer that an unidentified person was firing shots at both him and a Police-marked spotter aircraft during a cannabis removal operation.
By 1pm, AOS officers moved into position around the two properties and started appealing to any occupants to come out. After receiving no response, over the next two-and-a-half hours the AOS Commander made a series of tactical decisions that culminated in a team of six officers and a Police dog entering a house owned by the family of a Mr Rhys Warren in order to arrest any occupant.
Mr Warren was waiting in a bedroom and fired three shots at the advancing officers, seriously injuring three of them. Three officers fired a total of 46 shots towards Mr Warren as they evacuated the house. Later that afternoon, Mr Warren shot a fourth officer who was positioned on a cordon near the house.
Due to the seriousness of what had occurred, the Acting District Commander assumed control and command of the incident from a detective sergeant at the scene. Senior Police staff at Police National Headquarters in Wellington monitored events and made arrangements for specialist tactical resources to travel to the scene to help resolve the incident. Mr Warren surrendered peacefully to Police the following morning. He has since been convicted of two counts of attempted murder, three counts of using a firearm against a law enforcement officer and wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. He has been sentenced to preventive detention.
The Authority has found that the AOS officers should never have entered the Warren family’s house, and that there was poor general understanding amongst officers at all levels about how control and command should have operated during different phases of the Police response. The lack of proper oversight was a strong contributing factor to the flawed tactical decisions.
Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty, said: “The three AOS officers who fired at Mr Warren made a lawful decision based on the circumstances that they perceived at the time. They fired to defend themselves and their fellow officers from an imminent threat of death and in order to manage the safe evacuation of wounded officers.
However, the previous decisions which led the AOS officers to be in this position were highly flawed. Better decision making is likely to have prevented these officers from having to make the decision to use their firearms in the first place. Just as importantly, it would have prevented the officers from being in a position of considerable risk.
This incident illustrates the need for Police at all levels to have a thorough understanding of control and command, how command structures alter as incidents escalate in seriousness, and the responsibilities attached to key roles within those structures.”