27 Jan 2009

Accused has no memory of shootings - lawyer

2:44 pm on 27 January 2009

The lawyer for a man who allegedly sparked a police pursuit resulting the fatal shooting of a teenager by the police says his client has no recollection of the event.

Stephen Hohepa McDonald, 50, appeared at Auckland District Court on Monday charged with 29 offences, including 10 charges of using a firearm against law enforcement officers.

Other charges include four of conversion of motor vehicles, four of aggravated burglary, the unlawful possession of a firearm, failing to stop, reckless driving and driving while forbidden.

The accused's lawyer, Roger Chambers, says his client cannot remember the events leading up to the police pursuit on Friday, and it is likely Mr McDonald was on drugs at the time of the shootings.

Mr Chambers could not confirm to media outside the court what substance Mr McDonald had been on.

"I can't comment on that, but I would think that it's a fair guess that probably it's likely to have been methamphetamine."

He said Mr McDonald has no recollection of what occurred for about five days leading up to Friday, and was extremely upset when he learned that a person had been killed.

Mr Chambers said Mr McDonald is being treated for a wound on his back which may be related to the ricochet of a police bullet.

Family members of the accused were in court on Monday, with one supporter saying the man she saw in court is not the person she knows and that he has been changed by drugs.

Mr McDonald did not enter a plea and was remanded in custody to reappear in February.

Halatau Naitoko, 17, became caught up in the armed confrontation as he drove a courier van along on Auckland's north-western motorway on Friday and was fatally shot by the armed offenders squad.

Mr Naitoko, who had a two-year-old daughter, was working for his father who does contract work for courier company Kiwi Express.

Family seeks answers

Mr Naitoko's mother Ivoni Fuimaono said it would help her to know more about what happened to her son.

"I would like to meet the person who fired the shot that killed my son. I really want to see him, what he looks like, and get to know what happened."

Mr Naitoko's great uncle Sosefo Sime said finding out what happened will be crucial in helping the family deal with its grief.

"I think that will be the biggest question on the family's mind, why, why did it happen? That's the question we will ask, whether we will get an answer is a different matter."

Mr Naitoko's body was returned to his family on Sunday evening and taken to a makeshift chapel on the property. His funeral will be held on Friday.

Police superintendent George Fraser visited the family on Sunday afternoon to again give his condolences and to offer police support.

A spokesperson for the family, Peter Sykes, says the family will meet with police again after the funeral.

In his first public comment on the case, Police Commissioner Howard Broad said on Monday he has the utmost sympathy for Mr Naitoko's family, but his thoughts are also with the police.

Mr Broad has been Bouganville visiting police staff deployed there.


Prime Minister John Key described the fatal shooting as a tragedy on all fronts.

He said Mr Naitoko is a young father and it is an enormous tragedy that the family's son has been taken away from them at such an early stage in his life.

Mr Key said equally he has great sympathy for the police officer who would have been carrying out his or her duties, trying to protect the public.

He said the family may receive some compensation from ACC and the Government may be able to give additional support with funeral costs.

Police fired fatal shot

Police said on Saturday that a post-mortem carried out with an ESR ballistics expert in attendance had established that the fatal shot came from a police gun.

Auckland assistant police commissioner Steve Shortland said five shots were fired by two officers at the motorway scene, with four of them, including the fatal one, coming from a police-issued M4 rifle.

Mr Shortland said there was a shell in the breech of a sawn-off .22 rifle confiscated at the scene, indicating that a shot had been fired from it. He expects the officers involved in the incident will feel terrible about it.

The chairman of the Tongan Advisory Council, Melino Maka, says it will debate approaching police formally to ask that the officer who fired the fatal shot be charged.

Mr Maka says though the shooting may not have been premeditated, it was unlawful. However, he has sympathy for the officer who fired the fatal shot.

Mr Naitoko's parents made it clear on Tuesday they do not support the statement, do not have an opinion on whether the officer should be charged.

Former senior police officer and former MP Ross Meurant also believes the police actions should go before the courts.

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said that while he has nothing but sympathy for the family of Mr Naitoko, the officers were forced to go into a situation that anyone else would get away from, and were doing their job to the best of their ability.

Inquiries are being carried out by Police, the Independent Police Conduct Authority and the Coroner.