Porirua looks back at siege that left a young man and a police dog dead, one year on
Pita Te Kira was desperate.
The boy from Waipukurau in Hawke's Bay was on the run: outlawed, outnumbered.
A year ago today, from the top floor of a broad weatherboard two-storey house in eastern Porirua's state housing sprawl, Te Kira, 29, had managed to start a siege.
He was two days in. He had shot dead a police dog. A helicopter landed on the street outside to fly a wounded policeman away.
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Overnight, officers had thrown gas canisters into 13A Kokiri Cres in an attempt to smoke him out.
Te Kira, holed up indoors, called his nan, while cops wearing black balaclavas and carrying guns patrolled the perimeter.
Police kept telling him they just wanted everyone to go home safe.
But Te Kira wouldn't put down his gun. He wanted cigarettes.
"We will throw them in, Pita," a police negotiator told him. "We went and got them for you. We're not here to play games with you."
"You guys run them down to me then, eh," came the reply.
"Pita," reasoned the negotiator, "Smash the window for us. Drop the gun out and I'll throw the cigarettes in."
Te Kira didn't believe him.
By that Saturday morning, April 23, he had been on the run for weeks.
He was thought to have cut off his electronic monitoring bracelet and fled his Hawke's Bay home, where he was facing 11 charges for dishonesty, driving offences and violent offending.
In the police mugshot police issued on April 7, 2016, Te Kira frowns at the camera, bug-eyed.
Just a few weeks later the country's attention was on the Waitangirua state house he had chosen as his hiding place.
But there was little public sympathy for Te Kira.
Outside his walls, a nation was in mourning for the four-year-old german shepherd, Gazza.
Te Kira was in a house at 26A Kokiri Cres when police entered it. Before fleeing, Te Kira shot the dog and forced an officer to leap from a second-storey window to escape.
No, Te Kira did not trust the police, he told them. They were "lying" to him.
"I want to give you the cigarettes," the negotiator said.
"Get your pad and pen out and start writing," Te Kira instructed.
"What do I have to write?"
"Get your pad and pen out."
The negotiator tried a new angle – he knew Te Kira was the father of a young child, believed to have been living in Porirua.
"Pita, look. How many kids have you got? Pita, you've got to think about other people that love you and care for you."
"You care for me," came the reply from inside number 13A. "But you're not giving me the cigarettes."
"I've got the cigarettes in my hand, Pita."
"Well, give it then."
"Look," the negotiator replied. "I've got a family to go home to. I don't want to come close to you while you've got a gun."
Te Kira would not budge. "Throw it in the window."
"You throw the gun out of the window and then I will throw you the cigarettes."
In the end it was Te Kira who wrote. He scrawled all over the walls, telling his family how much he loved them, and: "F... the police."
SANCTUARY IN A STORM
Outside, an entire neighbourhood was in evacuation mode.
Pania Houkamau-Ngaheu can't quite believe it's been a year since the weekend she fed 500 people.
"It was good training. We've sheltered people through two floods since then.
"I had no idea it was going to turn out as big as it did. Probably a good thing."
It was big – over the two days, her marae, Te Horouta, fed Waitangirua people, armed offenders squad members and Te Kira's family on food donated by Porirua City Council and residents.
Two other marae chipped in to feed the crowds: "That's what maraes do every day, we feed people, and not just Maori people."
As the Friday night wore on, it became apparent that people couldn't go home, and a call for blankets went out. Within minutes Porirua responded.
While guests bedded down at the marae, their host stayed up to welcome stragglers brought in by Maori wardens.
That night, people from all cultures slept next to each other under donated blankets in Te Horouta's sleeping house.
"It was a cold night, but that wharenui was warm," Houkamau-Ngaheu recalls.
She doesn't like to call the incident "the siege". It's not the right word for what happened.
"It was more than that, it was about people being a community and helping each other. Not a siege."
It came to an end 26 hours after it started.
Things had gone silent, and police went into the house, where they found Te Kira dead, a gun next to him.
Later that day his uncle, Rikki Te Kira, stood outside the house, offering his apologies to the neighbourhood and to Gazza's handler, Constable Josh Robertson, saying the family were shattered by what had happened.
Te Kira was the only son of Rikki's brother, Robert, who died when Pita was about seven. He had become a very quiet child after that.
He was raised by his mother and was close to his grandmother.
"We're very saddened," Rikki said at the time. "I feel for his mother, she's done her best to raise him."
The next day, Houkamau-Ngaheu was one of three elders who donned gas masks as they went in to bless the house.
"He was just a boy. A boy who didn't think he had another way out."
A YEAR ON
Mike Tahere often wonders if he did the right thing.
"I look back on it and say, did we, the police, do enough to change the outcome?"
Te Kira's death weighs heavily on the now-retired policeman, an iwi liaison officer at the time of the siege.
"I wanted to go in and talk to him. I thought if we could speak face to face I could convince him to come out."
Determined not to criticise the police force he is loyal to, Tahere can't help but wonder what could have been, if he had gone into the Kokiri Cres house.
"He was a very troubled man, but it was about safety for the police, they couldn't let me in. I would have told him he had a family out there who loved him."
Te Kira loved his family too, Tahere said.
He said it was understandable that accusations were levelled by some at police in the wake of his death, that they had killed Te Kira, with the gas or by shooting him.
"But the only person in the room was that one guy. There was nobody else involved."
"The death of that man was not what I wanted to happen," Waitangirua Sergeant Jono Westrupp, who broke his wrist and shoulder leaping out a window to escape Te Kira, told Police Association magazine Police News last June.
"He really needed help and we had wanted to get him that help."
Assistant Commissioner Sam Hoyle, who was Wellington District Commander at the time, said talk that police killed Te Kira was hurtful to the officers involved.
"There is absolutely no substance to the rumours that police shot or accidentally gassed Pita Te Kira. The final determination as to the cause of Mr Te Kira's death will be made by the coroner."
No shots were fired by police during the incident, and the gas used was not lethal, he added.
"Police acknowledge that this incident was traumatic for the Porirua community, particularly the residents of Kokiri Crescent directly affected.
However, continued speculation as to police involvement in Mr Te Kira's death is extremely distressing for the staff involved in this incident and completely untrue."
The Independent Police Conduct Authority said it had not investigated because police had not fired shots. It oversaw the police investigation into the case, which was now completed.
Because the case is still with the coroner, police are barred from making public the findings of their investigation.
For many officers, including former Kapiti-Mana area commander Inspector Paul Basham, the siege remains a harrowing memory: "Some of our people were quite badly broken and we lost a police dog. The other layer to that is a young man lost his life."
Now Southern District Commander, he also thinks of the people bringing food and donations to Te Horouta. "The silver lining was seeing how the marae pulled everything together.
"I remember walking away from the siege when it was under way, this highly tactical, high-intensity situation, and then, 10 minutes down the road, walking into the marae and feeling an overwhelming sense of sanctuary."
That sanctum was extended to Te Kira's family the day after he died, Basham said.
"After it was all over on Sunday they were welcomed on to the marae, along with the police. I talked to his uncle while we ate a meal and that was pretty special."
ERASING THE MEMORY
The house where Te Kira died – 13A Kokiri Cres – still stands. It was re-let just a few months ago.
The house where Gazza was killed – 26A Kokiri Cres – was torched in the weeks after the siege.
Its sole occupant was out that night. It was a neighbour who saw the flames bursting through the lounge's window.
Detective Sergeant Dave Jones said there was an investigation into the arson, but "all avenues of inquiry were exhausted with no offender identified".
One clue was compelling. Someone had left behind some food in a polystyrene container at the crime scene – the kind commonly used by Chinese takeaway shops – with a metal spoon in it.
It still looked "fresh" when police picked through the scene afterwards.
They had items from the arson scene forensically tested, Jones said. "However, no evidence, including DNA, was obtained."
WAITANGIRUA MOVES ON
Patricia Pukeke's grandsons spill through her front door in a jostling, laughing tangle.
The bikes they've been riding up and down Kokiri Cres are biffed on the grass, their owners ready for the next adventure.
It wasn't always like this.
"For three months after it all happened they were too scared to go outside and play," Pukeke recalls. "The things they saw that day freaked them out too much."
Damien Poutu, 11, corrects her: he was maybe a little bit scared – but remember he was a whole year younger back then.
"The police told us to stay away from the windows, but we saw them hiding in the bush. Those german shepherd dogs were jumping really high over the fences."
His brother, 10-year-old Aries, denies being scared at all. But he didn't like "all the holes in the house where the man died".
"The helicopter landing outside our house was pretty cool, though."
As the four boys race off on their next mission, Pukeke says the street is back to normal.
"The kids all play like they used to. I've been here 16 years and that was the first bad thing to happen."