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Update: the shooting of Steven Wallace

19 June 2000

It is just over seven weeks now since Steven Wallace was shot dead by a police officer in Waitara. Aside from the initial flurry of statements of concern from various politicians, then a brief announcement on 1 June that the preliminary report of the homicide investigation was complete (except for a section by the Institute of Environmental Science and research), there has been official silence about the shooting and there is still no satisfactory explanation as to why Steven was killed.

The questions outlined in our initial alert on the shooting (8 May 2000) remain unanswered. These include the immediate questions which arose from the shooting - the serious discrepancies between the reports from witnesses and the brief statement issued by the police about what happened at the time of the shooting; why the police officers decided to arm themselves with guns when Steven was obviously not carrying a firearm himself; why they didn't choose another option to restrain him; why Steven was shot four times; why local people who tried to offer him comfort and assistance as he lay bleeding and dying in the street for 20 minutes were prevented by the police from going near him; and the crucial underlying question, why is this young man dead ?

It is shameful that Steven's family and friends have been left with their loss and grief unresolved by the lack of credible answers to these basic questions, and the strong feeling that justice is not going to prevail.

As well, there has not been any indication that the longer term issues arising from the shooting are going to be addressed with any degree of urgency - these include racism in the police force; police officers access to guns and what they do with them once they have armed themselves; what is being done to prevent a similar situation occurring again in the future; and the lack of public confidence in the ability of the Police Complaints Authority to deliver justice to those who have been wronged by the actions of police officers.

Despite the passing of seven weeks since the shooting, there has been no announcement regarding the likelihood of criminal proceedings against the police officer who killed Steven. Peter Williams QC in his report on the shooting (May 2000) concluded that "There is no doubt that the present enquiries by the police themselves and by the Police Complaints Authority will not result in criminal proceedings ..." He states ... " it is contrary to natural law that any person who has a vested interest in an issue should be a judge in respect of that issue". The police have already demonstrated their sympathy for the police officer who shot Steven and have defended his actions publicly.

He says that there is great irony with respect to the police reaction to this shooting - in a homicide investigation their usual primary concern is to ensure a prosecution is brought, by quickly finding a viable suspect and obtaining incriminating evidence against the suspect. The police usually state that the guilt or innocence of a suspect is not the concern of the police, but is for the courts to decide. Their approach to this shooting has been the reverse of their standard practice.

He also points out that ... "[in the past] the police have not been slow to bring criminal charges in homicide cases where the suspect is not a police officer. Suspects who have killed in defence of their homes or their loved ones have been charged with murder and the police have frequently said in these cases, we will leave it to the jury to decide whether or not they acted in self defence. It has often been the case, that charges of murder have been preferred by the police when the facts clearly display only grounds for a manslaughter charge. In those cases the police have said, well we will leave it to the jury to decide. It seems however that when a police officer commits homicide, then the police take a totally different attitude and go to great lengths to justify the actions of the killer and refrain from laying any criminal charges."

What you can do:

  • a) Call for an independent enquiry into the shooting

    The Wallace Whänau Committee has put out a public plea for an independent enquiry into the shooting which reads as follows :

    "As Steven's Whänau we must strive to do all that we can, so we know this needless tragedy has not been for nothing. Let justice prevail.

    Kia ora Whänau, Friends and Supporters,

    On behalf of the Wallace Whänau Committee we wish to seek your support and ask that you write to all Members of Parliament to ask for a government funded, independent enquiry into the shooting of Steven.

    Because of the far reaching problem which has been identified between Mäori and the Police, the Whänau want to harness support for their cause by asking all supporters to send letters to all MPs, c/o Parliament Buildings, Wellington, to demand an independent enquiry by the government to help heal the family's distrust of the present Police and Police Complaints Authority enquiries. An independent enquiry would also assist the community as a whole to return to some degree of normality. Letters to Parliament do not require postage.

    We feel that money will be wasted on separate enquiries. The problem has been identified so let's have some action to deal with it."

    Wallace Whänau Committee.

    In addition to contacting your own MP to express your concern about the delay in a decision with regard to the shooting, the apparent lack of practical action to address the longer term issues arising from it, and to call for an independent enquiry you could contact the following: George Hawkins as Minister of Police, office - tel (04) 470 6563, fax (04) 495 8464; Phil Goff as Minister of Justice, office - tel (04) 471 9370, fax (04) 495 8444; Nandor Tanczos as Green Party Justice Spokesperson, office - tel (04) 470 6712, fax (04) 472 7116; Helen Clark as Prime Minister, office - tel (04) 471 9998, fax (04) 473 3579; and Jim Anderton as Deputy Prime Minister, office - tel (04) 471 9011, fax (04) 495 8441.

  • b) Support the Steven Wallace Independent Enquiry Fund

    Thank you to those of you who responded to our earlier alert and sent donations to the fund c/o CORSO Waitara. The fund is now properly established to help with legal costs and expenses incurred by Steven's family (including those arising from their private independent investigation into the police actions which resulted in Steven's death), and to campaign for possible changes to the law and to police procedures.

    If you wish to make a contribution to the fund, please refer to the updated details on this page.

"This is not just a Waitara tragedy, it was a national tragedy and one we must never allow to occur again."

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