20 Oct 2016

Police actions during Cook Islands manhunt questioned

9:34 pm on 20 October 2016

Questions have been raised in the Cook Islands about the actions of police and prison officials after the violent deaths of three people.

A photo released by the Cook Islands Police Service, which is looking for Chris Rimamotu of Titikaveka.

Escaped prisoner Christopher Rimamotu is believed to have killed two people and then shot himself. Photo: Cook Islands Police Service / Facebook

Christopher Rimamotu escaped from a prison on Rarotonga yesterday and is believed to have killed a woman and fatally wounded a man who were both known to him.

Police have not confirmed reports that he then shot himself in an abandoned house on the southern inland side of Rarotonga.

Rimamotu was escorted from the prison after 4pm on a day release for a community work scheme but RNZI correspondent Florence Syme-Buchanan said this was outside of prison lock-down rules.

Police station in Rarotonga

A police taskforce dispatched to handle the escaped prisoner was supported by local constables and prison officers. Photo: RNZI / Mary Baines

She said Rimamotu told the accompanying prison warden that he had tools at his house and was then taken to his own home where he retrieved his gun and ran to a nearby house where the two people who were killed lived.

Ms Syme-Buchanan said police were wrong to claim that, later, they were negotiating with Rimamotu while he was holed up in a house at Vaima'anga.

"I asked 'had the gunman made any demands?' and the officer I spoke to said 'no he didn't know whether any demands had been made'," Ms Syme-Buchanan said.

"Subsequently we find out that when police actually moved into the house the gunman was found dead and had been dead for some hours, and the shot that they had heard earlier this morning was actually the shot that he had used to inflict the fatal wound."

Cook Island Prison rehabilitation center on Sep 21 2013.The legal system in Cook Islands is based on New Zealand law and English common law.

Christopher Rimamotu escaped from the prison on Rarotonga while on a day release for a community work scheme. Photo: 123RF

Ms Syme-Buchanan said police were also slow to get information to the public about the gunman being on the loose on Rarotonga.

In a statement, the Cook Islands Police Service said the situation had been contained and no further information would be released until the investigation had been completed.

Rimamotu had served about 18 months of a seven-year sentence for kidnapping and sexually assaulting a young girl.

Ms Syme-Buchanan said this was the first situation of its kind to happen in the country.

"It just seems completely surreal these events that have occurred in the Cook Islands," she said.

"As the commissioner of police said this morning on radio, his name is Maara Tetava, he said this is the first time that this has ever happened in our country, a double fatal shooting, it's something that people are reeling from, they're finding it quite unbelievable."

Cook Islands Justice Minister Nandi Glassie has praised the professionalism of police and officials in their response to the incident.

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