Report rules 'self-defence' justified Wallace killing

Police were justified when they shot and killed Steven Wallace on Waitara's main street, says the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

Yesterday's IPCA decision marks what could finally mark the last chapter in the nine-year-long saga of official inquiries and court hearings in the landmark and controversial case.

His mother Raewyn Wallace said yesterday the report was nothing more than what the family expected from police. "It's the sort of thing we've had from police from day one," Mrs Wallace said.

Mr Wallace died after he was fatally shot by Senior Constable Keith Abbott on April 30, 2000.

"Steven Wallace was shot, not because he had broken windows, or because he was resisting or escaping from arrest, but because Senior Constable Abbott had reasonable grounds to fear for his own life and for that of Constable (Jason) Dombroski," IPCA chairman Justice Lowell Goddard said.

The report follows an independent, wide-ranging investigation into police conduct surrounding the shooting.

It involved the interviewing of more than 50 people.

Its findings back the jury verdict in a private prosecution brought by the Wallace family against Mr Abbott that he had acted in self-defence.

It had considered a large number of issues raised by the Wallace family after August 2007 when Coroner Gordon Matenga released his report on the death.

The IPCA investigation found that Mr Abbott and Mr Dombroski had been justified in arming themselves in response to a series of violent actions by Mr Wallace directed at both property and people that night.

"He had smashed the windscreen of a police car with a golf club, narrowly missing a constable's head, and had smashed the driver's window of a taxi leaving the driver in fear for his life. He had also driven at speed towards another person," the report says.

THE REPORT:

While the IPCA report finds no evidence to support allegations Mr Abbott had attended a social function on the evening before the shooting, it recommends police adopt a policy on drug and alcohol testing of officers involved in critical incidents.

It also criticises the lack of communication between Mr Abbott and Mr Dombroski before they confronted Mr Wallace and that the officers were in breach of police regulations when they did not sign the firearms register when arming themselves at the Waitara police station. However, it notes the breaches reflected the urgency of the situation they were responding to.

Police should have done more to comfort the dying man after he was shot, but this would not have saved his life, Justice Goddard says.

It report also notes the mystery remains why Mr Wallace left his home in a rage that night.

Police records showed Mr Wallace had a history of violence to both people and property, the report says.

In 1995 he received diversion after driving his mother's vehicle through the front fence of a Waitara property following a heated argument with his girlfriend.

The same year he had assaulted a woman at a 21st birthday, returned with a piece of wood and smashed windows of vehicles and hit a man across the back, causing extensive bruising. Police were threatened with a broom and a shovel before he ran away.

He received a conviction for international damage and assault with a weapon.

In 1998 he was convicted three times for fighting in a public place when he was intoxicated. He also had convictions for cultivation of cannabis, drunk driving and failing to stop, the report says. Police records also revealed several callouts to the Wallace family home arising from domestic arguments several of which involved Steven Wallace, the report says.

Police Association president Greg O'Connor, who has been a strong advocate for the police officers throughout the saga, said the "excellent" report dealt with all the issues allowing all involved to move on.

"The report vindicates the actions taken by all the officers who responded to the incident. While some things could, with the benefit of hindsight, have been done better, the IPCA investigation clearly shows the decisions taken were good decisions, given the circumstances as the officers perceived them at the time," Mr O'Connor said.

Every investigation over the last nine years had found the officer had no choice, he said.

"The report also addresses head-on the untrue rumours and misguided criticisms levelled over the years and refutes each of them in turn, including some of the unwarranted criticisms made by the coroner in his 2007 report into the incident," Mr O'Connor said.

In the absence of police comment supporting the officers' action on the night, some politicians had made "terrible statements" for purely political gain, he said. "It was a classic case of mischief made in a vacuum. They were feeding off the grief of the family."

Statements from police the same night would have clearly showed it was always a justified killing, Mr O'Connor said.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad said the range of investigations and legal proceedings since the events of that tragic night had placed incredible pressures on the police and the families of all those involved.

"I hope this last official review and the clarity its finding provide allows this difficult chapter of our history to be closed."

He acknowledged Justice Goddard's criticism regarding first aid and said recommendations on drug and alcohol testing and assessment before returning to work after critical incidents would all be included in police policy.

Justice Goddard has previously apologised that the investigation was not completed until years after Mr Wallace's death.

The IPCA no longer always waits for coroners to report before issuing its own findings, as it had done in this case, Justice Goddard said.

 

TIMELINE:

April 30, 2000: Steven Wallace shot on main street of Waitara. Police begin homicide investigation and an investigation on behalf of the former Police Complaints Authority.

June 2000: Police release report by Detective Inspector Pearce recommending that no criminal charges be laid over the shooting.

May 2001: Hamilton Coroner Gordon Matenga opens inquest. Inquest adjourned the following month.

December 2002: Senior Constable Abbott acquitted of murder after a private prosecution by the Wallace family.

July 2003: Coroner re-opens inquest and lawyers for Senior Constable Abbott challenges the decision to re-open the inquest.

April 2005: The High Court rules that the inquest can go ahead.

September 2005: The inquest is re-opened

August 2007: The coroner releases findings. Wallace family asks to be heard before authority finalises its report. The authority starts a new investigation.

Taranaki Daily News