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Inquest told police left shot man to die in street

13 September 2005

Police officers who allegedly ignored standard procedure before the fatal shooting of Steven Wallace were severely criticised on the first day of Mr Wallace's inquest in the New Plymouth Coroner's Court yesterday.

Wallace family lawyer Ron Mansfield told the court that the officers involved in the 2000 shooting had ignored police procedures and instructions, and had failed to provide any first aid as Mr Wallace lay dying on the Waitara street.

Mr Mansfield said it was clear that no one had been concerned for Mr Wallace's welfare.

Hamilton-based coroner George Matenga has set aside a week for the hearing, limited to two police policy issues: Procedure applying to general staff dealing with violent offenders, and first aid care.

The inquest was adjourned in 2001, when the Wallace family brought a private murder prosecution against Senior Constable Keith Abbott.

Mr Abbott was acquitted by a jury.

Yesterday, members of Mr Wallace's family sat passively on one side of the court while senior police officers from around the country sat some distance away.

Mr Mansfield opened by stressing that the Wallace family still believed the fatal shooting had been avoidable.

His criticism centred on Mr Abbott, the officer who fired the fatal shots, for a lack of planning; on Constable Jason Dombroski, who armed himself as Mr Wallace rampaged through Waitara, smashing windows and attacking cars; and on Sergeant Fiona Prestidge, who was the supervising officer at the time of the incident.

He said there was little control by the sergeant in charge, and said no formal procedures had been followed once the officers decided to arm themselves.

In Mr Mansfield's opinion, the officers had made a serious misjudgment, by not waiting for a dog handler or back-up from the armed offenders squad. He described the lead-up to the shooting as a routine incident.

"There was no plan, no options considered. Rather than cordon and contain, or pull away to a safe distance to consider options, they go right up to him," he said.

Mr Mansfield's first witness, former police superintendent Bryan Rowe, who retired in 1996 after 33 years in the force, said there was no excuse for the officers involved not to be able to control Mr Wallace with the use of batons and pepper spray.

Mr Rowe also said it was clear Mr Abbott had made no attempt to help Mr Wallace after he was shot. He had been more interested in marking the position from which he fired.

That was simply disgraceful, he said.

He believed it was clear there was no plan, because one officer got out of the car to approach Mr Wallace with a gun, while the other got out with a baton.

Susan Hughes, the lawyer acting on behalf of the New Zealand Police Association, objected several times to Mr Rowe's evidence, which she claimed was not in line with the focus of the inquest.

Ms Hughes, who represented Mr Abbott during the private murder prosecution, told the court Mr Rowe's only knowledge of the police baton and pepper spray was from a training video. He had not used either during his police career.

She read to the court Mr Dombroski's evidence from the murder trial, in which he said the officers had planned how to stop Mr Wallace.

It was evidence rebuffed by Mr Rowe.

"Dombroski's only thought after his police car was attacked was to get a gun. It was his only thought to stop him," he said.

The inquest resumes today.

Glenn McLean

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