New case over police shooting of Steven Wallace in Waitara in 2000

Steven Wallace, fatally shot in April 2000.
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Steven Wallace, fatally shot in April 2000.

A new civil case over the police shooting of Steven Wallace in Waitara in 2000 was not an attempt to "go after" the shooter, Senior Constable Keith Abbott, a lawyer says.

Wallace, 23, was shot in the town's main street after breaking shop windows and attacking a police car with officers in it.

HIs family say he was deprived of the right to life and investigations so far have been inadequate, lawyer Graeme Minchin said at the High Court in Wellington on Thursday. Justice Brendan Brown has reserved his decision on the Police Commissioner's application to stop the case now.

Senior Constable Keith Abbott during the trial at which he was acquitted of murdering Steven Wallace.
PHIL REID/FAIRFAX NZ

Senior Constable Keith Abbott during the trial at which he was acquitted of murdering Steven Wallace.

The family said police had options other than shooting Wallace.

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"For the family this really bites, that the police had options."

Police were not cornered and the family could not live with the fact that the truth had not come out, he said.

There was no intention of "going after" Abbott, he said. He was not a party in the case against the Police Commissioner and would not be liable in any financial or legal sense.

After police decided not to charge Abbott – a decision the deputy Solicitor General confirmed – the Wallace family took a private prosecution charging Abbott with murder. In December 2002 a Wellington jury acquitted Abbott who had said he shot Wallace in self defence.

Minchin said the new case was not an attack on the jury's verdict. The jury knew that Abbott mistakenly thought he shot someone he knew, David Toa. But it is now alleged that the pair were hostile and that was the motive for the shooting. Minchin conceded Toa had denied any hostility.

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Crown lawyer Peter Gunn said Abbott would inevitably be central in a new case. It was an attempt to call into question the jury's verdict and was an abuse of process.

The motive for the shooting was that Abbott needed to defend himself when Wallace approached with a softball bat, Gunn said.

The Crown said the family's claim had no hope of success and it should be struck out.

The circumstances had been investigated three times – the trial, coroner's inquest, and an Independent Police Conduct Authority investigation, Gunn said.

If it was allowed to go ahead the Crown wanted assurance that a contribution could be made towards its costs, conservatively estimated at just under $50,000 for a two week hearing, in the event the Wallace family lose.

The family are fighting to get legal aid to pay for the case. Minchin said if "substantial" security was ordered for costs, and they did not get legal aid, the case could not go ahead. All their money had gone into the criminal prosecution.

The family have claimed $200,000 compensation for breach of the right to life. They also want a declaration about the right to life being breached and no proper investigation held.

 - Stuff

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