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Steven Wallace: two years on

30 April 2002

Today is the second anniversary of the death of Steven Wallace, shot and killed by a police officer in Waitara on 30 April 2000.

In May 2000, Helen Clark described the shooting as "a tragedy", and said "this is a priority for this government ... we want some action because we can't have communities where this happens"

dot What has been done to stop it happening again?

In June 2000, in response to the lack of public confidence in the ability of the Police Complaints Authority to deliver justice for those who have been harmed by the actions of police officers, Phil Goff announced a review of its structure and the manner in which it conducts its operations. The PCA review findings were received by Phil Goff's office in December 2000; aside from a media release in May 2001, nothing has been done since.

In August 2000, the police homicide enquiry report was released. It vindicated the actions of the three officers involved, including Constable Abbott who 'fired the fatal shots', but this view was not shared by others who read it:

"Every time the police exonerate themselves over fatalities such as this, it becomes harder to accept that they should sit in judgment of themselves. The questions raised about this case will not go away unless they are put to a panel more impartial" (NZ Herald Editorial, 17 August 2000);

"although it contains a lot of detail, it leaves too many basic questions unanswered. The report could have been a step towards justice, but it is not" (Peace Movement Aotearoa, August 2000);

"the narrow framework within which the Report was written has produced not just a technically questionable conclusion but an inadequate response to the concerns expressed over the affair by many in the community ... confronting the broader issues, and learning their lessons, may hopefully draw justice and reconciliation from tragedy. The whänau of Steven Wallace and the police officer require that. The memory of Steven Wallace deserves it." (Moana Jackson, August 2000).

In March 2001, the New Plymouth Coroner announced that the Coroner's Inquest would begin on 21 May. The lawyer acting for the Police Association and the three police officers involved in the shooting applied for an adjournment of the Inquest.

In May 2001, the Coroner's proceedings were handed over to the Hamilton Coroner, and on 21 May the Inquest was further adjourned until 10 September 2001. ____________________________________________________________________

Healing of grief and loss can only begin when harm is acknowledged and justice is done

In September 2001, more than sixteen months after Steven's death, with neither the PCA investigation nor Coroner's Inquest completed, the Wallace whänau began a private prosecution against Constable Abbott.

In February 2002, the depositions hearing on the private prosecution ended with the dismissal of the murder charge by two New Plymouth JPs.

"according to media reports they chose not to send the case to the High Court for trial because they were satisfied Constable Abbot had acted in self defence and in line with police procedure. Their decision was surprising because our understanding of the role of a depositions hearing is that it is to decide whether or not there is sufficient evidence for a trial to proceed, not to decide whether or not an accused person is innocent or guilty." (Peace Movement Aotearoa, 20 February 2002)

This dismissal has been appealed, and the private prosecution will return to court on 4 June.

It is now two years since Steven Wallace was killed, and there are still no satisfactory answers to the immediate questions raised by his death.

- why did police officers decide to arm themselves with guns when Steven was obviously not carrying a firearm himself? - why didn't they choose another option to stop him? - why were local people who tried to offer him comfort and assistance as he lay bleeding and dying in the street for 20 minutes prevented by the police from going near him? - why is this young man dead?

In two years there has been no official progress towards justice for Steven Wallace's family and friends.

And there has been little official progress towards resolving the longer term issues raised by the shooting, so that this cannot happen again. These issues include:

- reviewing police officers access to, and use of, guns - making sure that existing police procedures about firearms are actually followed - establishing an independent PCA - improving the way the criminal justice system relates to Mäori.

dot Where you can get more information

Peace Movement Aotearoa has written a series of alerts and updates since May 2000 - they include ideas about what you can do, as well as contact details for the media and government politicians. These are available here * The most recent, 'JPs dismiss murder charge' on 20 February 2002, with updates on 15 March and 9 April 2002, is available here * Moana Jackson's analysis of the police homicide enquiry report is available here * Aotearoa Educators' articles about Steven Wallace's death are available here.

dot The Steven Wallace Trust Fund for Justice

The fund was established to help with legal costs and expenses incurred by Steven's family, and to campaign for possible changes to the law and to police procedures - any funds not required for these purposes will be placed in a permanent trust fund for the use of persons finding themselves victims of similar injustices. 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." (from the Wallace Whänau Committee statement, June 2000)

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