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Armed Offenders Squad officers justified in shooting man dead in Kawerau in 2019, IPCA finds

Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) officers were justified in shooting a man dead in Kawerau in February 2019, the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has found.

A police Armed Offenders Squad officer. Source: 1 NEWS

However the actions of the two AOS officers prior to firing at the man, who'd fired a shot at them, have been ruled unjustified by the police watchdog.

Astin Hooper stole a shotgun and ute from his father’s home and robbed the Kawerau Credit Union at around 9am on February 21, 2019.

When local officers found Hooper in the ute about 40 minutes later, Hooper chased their police car twice around a truck turning bay before driving off, after which police caught up and began a pursuit.

Two police cars, joined by a third, were able to cordon off Hooper's vehicle when he stopped on the side of the road, shortly after which two AOS officers drove past the police vehicles and towards the ute in an attempt to arrest Hooper.

As they approached, the AOS officers saw Hooper pointing a firearm towards them from within the ute, resulting in them stopping, taking cover and aiming their rifles at Hooper as they called on him to surrender.

Hooper fired the shotgun once towards the AOS officers, who fired nine shots back at him. Hooper suffered five gunshot wounds.

Despite receiving first aid within a minute of being shot, Hooper died at the scene.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) said in their report, released today, that while the AOS officers were legally justified in shooting Hooper in self-defence, their prior actions were not justified, adding that they should have stopped at the cordon and sought to de-escalate the situation by communicating with Hooper.

They also should have consulted the Incident Controller and obtained his approval for their arrest plan.

"By immediately driving closer to Mr Hooper, the AOS officers unnecessarily escalated the situation, put themselves within range of his shotgun and prompted his reaction. Mr Hooper's decision to aim and fire his shotgun at the AOS officers was entirely his own responsibility, but the police response should have afforded him a greater opportunity to reconsider his actions and surrender," Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty, said today in a statement.

The Authority also determined that police responded to two initial incidents involving Hooper in a timely and effective manner; the search and subsequent pursuit was handled appropriately and in line with police policy; and provided timely and appropriate medical assistance.

In a statement, Bay of Plenty District Commander Superintendent Andy McGregor acknowledged the findings of the IPCA report. 

“Our officers’ priority was to take him into custody as quickly and efficiently as possible, to limit the harm he may have caused,” McGregor said.

“This was an outcome nobody wanted, and our thoughts remain with Mr Hooper’s whanau and friends, and with the police.”