14 Mar 2017

Kawerau siege victim describes moment he was shot

7:34 pm on 14 March 2017

A police officer wounded during a siege has described the shot that hit him as a massive blinding flash.

Police Kawerau standoff

A police car at the scene of the siege near Kawerau in March 2016. Photo: Diego Opatowski

Armed Offenders Squad member Sergeant Damian White was wounded in the face and hand during the siege at a house near Kawerau in March last year, which lasted nearly 24 hours and left four police officers injured.

Rhys Warren is on trial in the High Court in Hamilton on several charges relating to the siege, including attempted murder.

Mr White told the court that, while the shot happened in a split second, time seemed to stand still.

"Things have slowed down, ringing in my ear, and I remember thinking, 'OK, I have been hit.'"

Mr White, who was in the army before joining the police, said it was an overload on the senses and a massive adrenaline rush.

"I have had it before throughout my time in the military and on other AOS jobs as well."

Once he realised he could still operate effectively he took up a position helping to protect another seriously injured officer lying on the ground.

The shooting took place in what the AOS described as the most dangerous spot in a house, Mr White said.

"In the hallway becomes what we call the fatal funnel - so imagine yourself trapped in a hallway and someone shines a light down the hall, anything the light touches becomes in the fatal funnel, so potentially you are in harm's way."

Earlier, the officer most seriously injured in the shooting gave evidence.

Constable Regan Mauheni was moving towards the last two bedrooms in the house when a shot rang out.

"The next thing I remember is lying on my back in the hallway ... I couldn't see anything and I know now that my eyes were full of blood."

Mr Mauheni suffered from a head wound that split his skull and required surgery and months of rehabilitation.

"Little bits of metal were coming out of my skin continuously over that time - different parts of my face during my time in rehab."

Constable Martyn Roe was in the house at the time as an AOS member and he saw Mr Mauheni fall.

"He just fell straight backward, unsupported. He was just like a big kauri tree, just straight back, and he bounced on the wooden floor."

Under covering fire from other officers, Mr Roe put himself in danger by going to Mr Mauheni's aid and dragging him to safety.

"When I bent down, I put one arm under his armpit, and so while I am yelling out, 'Keep firing,' I was also yelling to Regan to move just so I could get some reaction from him."

"I though he was dying in front of me - I thought he was dead, basically - and I was just rescuing a person who was going to die."

Police asked about possibility of stray shots

Mr Warren is representing himself in court.

In cross-examination, he asked Mr Roe if it was possible that the officers had shot themselves.

Mr Roe replied that from what he was involved in that was not possible.

Mr Warren asked Mr White about perceptions of the police among Māori in rural areas.

"Police are known to use excessive force on local Māori like myself," Mr Warren said.

Sergeant White replied: "Having grown up in a rural Māori community myself, I have several family members that live and work in Kawerau and Te Teko - they have never mentioned to me that they are fearful."

The trial is continuing.