Police officer shot dead in Napier

Officer and local resident 'critical'

Last updated 04:04 08/05/2009
Napier Mail
DECEASED: Senior Constable Len Snee.
Supplied
INJURED OFFICER: Bruce Miller.
Supplied
INJURED OFFICER: Grant Diver.
TVNZ
WANTED: Jan Molenaar's mother Anna has pleaded for her son to give himself up.
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LOADED: Ammunition found in Jan Moenaar's bedroom. Police are yet to recover more ammunition scattered around his house.

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A former territorial army member was still firing a high powered rifle at police officers who have surrounded his Napier home.

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The volleys of gunfire have also stymied attempts by colleagues of Senior Constable Len Snee to retrieve his body from outside from the house of the gunman, identified by family members as 51-year-old Jan Molenaar.

Four bursts of gunfire were heard at about 3am, Radio New Zealand reported.

Eastern District Commander Superintendent Sam Hoyle admitted last night the gunman could stay holed up in his Chaucer Road house on Napier Hill for hours.

Mr Snee, 53, of Taradale police, was killed about 9.30am yesterday while conducting an apparent low-risk cannabis operation.

His body was still lying next to his police car outside the house in the early hours of the morning.

Two other officers, Senior Constable Bruce Miller, 40, a community constable in the suburb of Ahuriri, and Senior Constable Grant Diver, 50, a dog handler, and a neighbour were wounded by gunshots and all were in a critical condition in Hawke's Bay Hospital's intensive care unit.

The three officers were married family men and veterans of the police force.

The shooting began shortly after the police officers arrived at the address, Mr Hoyle told Radio NZ.

Mr Diver was able to crawl to a neighbouring house where he telephoned the police station and the armed offenders squad came to his assistance.

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Members of the public also came to the rescue of Mr Miller, Mr Hoyle said.

None of the officers had been armed.

About 30 officers had contained the gunman in his home, but he was still firing at them.

Police had contacted him by phone and were attempting to negotiate with him.

IN FOR THE LONG HAUL

Mr Hoyle said the gunman was very determined and it would appear that he intended to hang in for the long haul.

"That means we could be here all night. While we have him well contained and have got everyone out around his address who is in any immediate danger, this could take many hours to resolve."

The gunman had a high powered rifle that could shoot up to a kilometre away.

Police had also had reports that he had many rounds of ammunition and access to a number of weapons and explosives.

"Which we are taking seriously even though it is as yet unconfirmed."

However, Mr Hoyle said the risk to others living on Napier Hill was "quite low".

Civil Defence have set up a centre for evacuated residents to stay in while the siege continued and by 6pm 49 people had registered.

Mr Hoyle said the gunman was known to police, but only in a minor way.

"He was certainly not on our radar as a high risk offender. The job the police went to this morning was a very mundane low level cannabis operation."

A woman who was in the house at the time of the shootings was able to leave the property and was assisting police in their inquiries, Mr Hoyle said.

Mr Hoyle said fresh staff arrived to take over from police who had been at the scene all day yesterday.

"It is a waiting game. We will continue with our tried and true tactics around these types of offenders and are confident it will be resolved without any more people being hurt."

Police Commissioner Howard Broad told media today that police had been attempting to recover Mr Snee from the scene without success.

"I understand a number of my officers have attempted to do so under direct fire from the house," he said.

"The fact we have got an officer we cannot get out from the situation, we cannot confirm finally that the man is dead is deeply distressing.

"He is in a position where we can say with reasonable certainty that he must be dead, but no one has been able to get there close to him and check that."

MUM SAYS 'SORRY'

Jan Molenaar's mother Anna told TVNZ current affairs programme Close Up she was sorry for her son's actions.

"I just want to apologise to the police who have been shot and those who are injured and in hospital and all the trouble."

Mrs Molenaar said she was having difficulty understanding why her son apparently had chosen to shoot at the officers.

"What was he trying to protect? That's what I want to know. A silly marijuana plant?"

A friend of Molenaar told NZPA he styled himself on Sylvester Stallone's Rambo film character and could have rigged his house with explosives.

The friend said Molenaar had been out walking his dog this morning when he returned to find the police executing their search warrant.

A confrontation ensued and Molenaar retrieved a high-powered gun and began shooting, the friend said.

He said the 51-year-old was a "dab hand" with guns and explosives and police were cautious about entering the house as it could be booby-trapped.

SHARPLES SHOCKED

Maori Affairs Minister Peter Sharples last night expressed his shock and distress at the shooting death of Senior Constable Len Snee, with whom he grew up in Takapau, Central Hawke's Bay.

"I have known him all his life. Our families are inter-related. I regard him as a nephew," Mr Sharples said.

"This shooting is a shocking event. I am so sorry for Senior Constable Snee's family, who are so close to my own, so close to us all at Takapau."

THREE OTHER VICTIMS IN HOSPITAL

Police said that senior constable Bruce Miller and a local resident, who wants to remain anonymous, were both in a critical condition in Hawkes Bay Regional Hospital's intensive care unit. Senior constable Grant Diver was in a serious condition. The two officers had crawled to a neighbouring property to get help.

Police said that offers of accommodation were flooding into Napier police and the Civil Defence centre set-up for residents unable to return to their homes on part of Napier's Hospital Hill.

Some residents are known to be staying with family members or friends but about 40 people are at a "welfare centre" at Napier Intermediate School where they are being fed and motel beds arranged, police said. "Civil Defence and other agencies are working together to make sure people's welfare needs are met," a statement said.

Mr Hoyle said eastern district police staff appreciated the support and messages they were receiving from the local community and the country.

SEARCH WARRANT

Gunfire forced police officers to retreat when they tried to recover the body of their slain colleague from outside the Napier house.

The area has remained in lockdown all afternoon as police attempted to negotiate with the alleged offender with a high-powered rifled.

Hundreds of pupils from nearby schools - including Napier Central School, Napier Intermediate, Sacred Heart College, Nelson Park School, Carlyle Kindergarten, and Napier Girls' High School - spent much of the day lockdown.

At 6pm, police said the pupils and teachers had all been evacuated safely.

Mr Hoyle said police had taken "every step" to prevent any further injuries.

"I want to reassure the public ... that the offender is well-contained.

"We have the offender contained. We have AOS staff on the ground. We have in excess of 30 police staff on the hill currently, with more arriving."

Police had made phone contact with the alleged offender, who they believed was the only person in the house.

Mr Hoyle said all three officers were long-serving officers, well-known in the city. Mr Snee was a member of the AOS and he worked on drugs cases.

Keith Price, a former colleague of Len Snee, described him as a "real good thief catcher".

"He was a silent achiever, he just worked away at cathcing criminals, he was an outstanding, outstanding police officer," he told TV1's Close-Up.

All the shot police officers were family men, who had been in the police force a long time, Mr Price said.

Mr Snee was the first officer killed in Hawke's Bay since 1996, when Constable Glenn Arthur McKibbin, 25, was shot beside his patrol car in the Hastings suburb of Flaxmere.

Speaking at the press conference, Police Association president Greg O'Connor said this morning's search warrant operation was "ordinary" police work.

"In policing, danger comes from anywhere.

"We police in a very violent world."

A woman believed to be the girlfriend of the alleged offender has been arrested.

Backup was flown in from outside the region, including AOS members from Gisborne and Palmerston North, and the elite Special Tactics Group from Wellington.

POLICE COMMISSIONER REACTS

Speaking at Christchurch Airport en route to Napier, Police Commissioner Howard Broad said: ''This is the third time in 12 months this has happened - I'm feeling a bit numb.''

''I was with a group of officers at a police conference in Queenstown when the news came through. The affect on them was visible and demonstrable.''

Mr Broad had met Mr Snee previously and said he was a celebrated sportsman who had played for the New Zealand police rugby team.

Mr Broad said a number of ''brave officers'' tried to recover Mr Snee's body at 4pm but were forced to retreat after being fired at from the house.

Earlier, Mr Broad said it was a day that police officers would be ''measured by their professionalism, pride and respect for others.''

He gave the opening speech at the annual police Blue Light conference, attended by about 145 delegates, before leaving to fly to Napier.

''Obviously it's very traumatic for officers involved.''

Asked before the conference if any procedures would be changed in the wake of the shooting, he said it was a matter of waiting until after the incident was sorted and than taking a ''good hard look at the circumstances''.

EYE-WITNESS REPORTS

Johnny Ruhi was on a roof in Chaucer Rd painting when he heard six ''bloody loud bangs'' about 9.30am.

''I just jumped over the other side of the roof and hid. It was bloody scary because we didn't know what the hell was happening.

''I was just laying down trying to figure out what the hell was happening. When I realised I just jumped off the roof.

''Normally this street is really noisy but at the moment you could hear a pin drop.''

About 10 minutes after the shots he saw AOS members holding someone on the ground and then putting them into an ambulance.

About 10.30am a police helicopter was circling the botanic gardens and cemetery and ''heaps'' of police dog handlers were arriving.

''There is about a dozen police cars and a heap of ambulances.''

Caroline Weetink, who was house-sitting a nearby Chaucer Rd house, said she was still inside about 1.30pm.

"There's more activity happening out there ... I've heard megaphones and there have been more shots in the last half hour."

The shots had been close by and she was "a bit shaken", she said.

Police had been calling to update her and told her to remain inside and stay low, she said.

Chaucer Rd resident Donald Taylor said the first shots were heard by nearby residents about 9.30am and he was told by armed police to go inside about 9.45am.

From his window he saw two armed police standing over a man lying on the ground. They lead the limping man to a police car.

"While they were putting him in the car ... I heard two more shots. They are now all sprinting around Botanical Gardens."

Mr Taylor said he heard about seven more shots about 10.10am.

"It was bang, bang, bang, the guy must have had a semi-automatic or something."

Chaucer Rd resident William Johnson said he heard three series of shots between about 9.30am and 10am.

Three or four shots were fired before a pause, then another three or four shots, another pause, then five or six shots.

Mr Johnson said he had gone out to help direct police to the street and been told to go inside. About six armed officers ran past shortly afterwards.

"We've been told to lie low, stay away from the windows. We're in lockdown ... It's a bit scary."

A witness who lives on the northern side of Napier Hill told NZPA it "sounded like World War 3".

MINISTER'S REACTION

Police Minister Judith Collins said she was ''extremely shocked and concerned'' over the shooting.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad had contacted Ms Collins yesterday morning to tell her police officers had been shot.

Ms Collins, who is in Queenstown at a police blue light conference, said the mood was sombre.

''I am extremely shocked and concerned. I'll be cancelling all my appointments tomorrow and moving straight to Napier to be with our police and their families,'' she said.

''I'm not going today ... because police are dealing with an extraordinarily difficult situation right now and I want to make sure that they are focused on that, not worrying about their minister getting in the way.''

INCIDENT ON MAYOR'S HOME STREET

Radio New Zealand reported that Napier Mayor Barbara Arnott said the district police commander left a council meeting when he was told about the incident.

Ms Arnott, who lives on the street where the incident occurred, said the shooting was "horrific".

"This is a tragedy.

"Napier's a small city, everyone will know these people. People are very close around here.

"Our thoughts go out to those involved. I've already had people phoning in saying they're starting up a support fund for the officer who has lost his life.

SPECIAL TACTICS GROUP

The Special Tactics Group - which was sent up from Wellington to Hawke's Bay today - is a secretive but highly-skilled anti-terrorist squad that goes into situations regarded as beyond the capacity of the Armed Offenders Squad.

Its first high profile operation was the 1990 Aramoana massacre when the STG went in and found gunman David Gray. He was shot and killed by the STG.

In 2002 the STG became a full-time group in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

Two years ago the STG was sent to the Solomon Islands as rioters destroyed the Chinatown area of Honiara.

KILLED IN THE LINE OF DUTY

Before today, 28 police officers had been killed in the line of duty from a criminal act since 1890.

Don Wilkinson was killed on a surveillance operation in Mangere last September. He was one of two plainclothes officers shot while trying to install a tracking device on a vehicle outside a suspected P lab.

Last July Wellington sergeant Derek Wootton was run over and killed while laying road spikes. He was the 26th policeman to die in New Zealand.

A further 13 have died on duty from non-criminal acts, such as accidents.

The worst police tragedy was in October 1941, when West Coast farmer Stanley Graham shot dead four policemen.

Feilding detective Duncan Taylor was shot by a teenager during a confrontation at a Manawatu farmhouse in July 2002.

In West Auckland in January 1963, Victor George Wasmuth shot dead Detective Sergeant Neville Wilson Power and Detective Inspector Wallace Chalmers. Wasmuth also shot dead a neighbour and wounded another man.

The 1963 murders of the two policemen led to a revamp of tactics used by police responding to armed incidents, and the first version of the police armed offenders squad was formed.

The following officers were killed by criminal act while in the performance of their official duties:

2008   Don Wilkinson
2008   Derek Wootton
2002   Duncan Taylor
1999   Lester Stretch
1996   Glenn McKibben
1990   Stewart Guthrie
1990   Peter Umbers
1986   Robin Dudding
1977   Barry Gibson
1976   Peter Murphy
1970   Gilbert Arcus
1966   Donald Stokes
1963   Brian Schultz
1963   James Richardson
1963   Neville Power
1963   Wallace Chalmers
1951   William Hughes
1949   John Kehoe
1941   Edward Best
1941   Percy Tulloch
1941   Frederick Jordan
1941   William Cooper
1934   Thomas Heeps
1921   James Dorgan
1919   Vivian Dudding
1913   John Doyle
1910   John McGuire
1890   Neil McLeod

Source: NZ Police

- Dominion Post, Stuff.co.nz and NZPA

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