Jo Pert death: IPCA report critical of police actions before death of Auckland mum
The family of slain woman Jo Pert says the police have been "let off the hook" following a critical IPCA report into how they dealt with the man who fatally stabbed her.
On January 7 2016, the 41-year-old mother of two was killed while out jogging in the Auckland suburb of Remuera.
An Independent Police Conduct Authority report, released on Thursday, has criticised police for "failings and errors of judgement" after they stopped and questioned the mentally unstable Tevita Mafi Filo only hours before he killed Pert.
The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that two officers should have made further enquiries when dealing with an incident involving Tevita Filo on 6 January 2016, and that a Police dispatcher did not pass on all the available information.
Mr Filo went on to kill Joanne Pert in Remuera the following morning, but the Authority has determined that it is not possible to draw any link between Police actions on 6 January 2016 and Ms Pert’s tragic death.
On the evening of 6 January 2016, Police responded to a 111 call from a motorist who reported that Mr Filo had been following him from St Heliers to Howick. Within minutes, two officers stopped Mr Filo and spoke to him at the roadside. They said Mr Filo was acting “strange” and “really, really weird”. The officers also noticed that there was a knife in Mr Filo’s car, and Mr Filo told them he had it because it made him feel safe.
Meanwhile the Police dispatcher conducted a vehicle check, which revealed that Mr Filo’s vehicle was wanted for an incident involving a theft from a shop. However she did not recall seeing that information and did not pass it on to the officers who were dealing with Mr Filo. Nor did she pass on further information about Mr Filo’s behaviour which the 111 call taker had obtained from the motorist.
The officers decided to seize the knife and warn Mr Filo for his possession of it. Mr Filo denied that he had been following anyone, and the officers accepted his explanations for his actions, even though they were contradictory and implausible.
The Authority found that Mr Filo’s behaviour and his possession of the knife should have prompted the officers to make further enquiries with the dispatcher before deciding what action to take.
“If they had made those enquiries and learned of the full extent of Mr Filo’s actions, it would have led them to interrogate Mr Filo about the reasons for his actions. In the absence of a more plausible explanation, they might have arrested him and taken him to the station” said Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty.
“If Mr Filo had been arrested for possession of a knife and taken to the Police station the previous evening, it is not possible to determine what would have happened if he had been questioned further. The probability, however, is that he would have been processed and then released on a pre-charge warning as the officers predicted. Even if Mr Filo had been charged, he would in all probability have been released into the community on Police bail. In either event, no Police action would have seen Mr Filo remain in custody.”
The report noted a police dispatcher failed to pass on crucial information to the officers, which may have resulted in Filo's arrest.
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However, Pert's family believe the report falls short of holding police to account for her death.
The other complainant, a family friend and former police officer, said the flaws "directly contributed" to her death.
"The more I read the report and the findings, the more astounding and arrogant I find the final comments which say the flaws didn't contribute to Jo's death.
"They directly contributed to her death and for the police to say that despite the findings they will not be looking at a review of their procedures is astounding," he said.
The police have said they will not be reviewing its processes in light of the IPCA report, and that there is no link to be drawn between police actions involving Filo on January 6 and Pert's death the following day.
Two complaints were laid with the IPCA after it was revealed police had found Filo with a knife, stalking a couple with the intention of killing them, the night before he attacked Pert.
They confiscated the knife but let him go.
The next morning Filo, armed with a second knife, killed Pert while she was out for a morning run.
The IPCA found "failings and errors of judgment" by the police who dealt with Filo that night, saying that police "should have made further enquiries" when dealing with Filo.
However, it was not prepared to directly link police's refusal to arrest or take Filo in for questioning with Pert's death.
Pert's killing was the most violent act in a series of sexually motivated assaults by Filo over a period of just 17 hours. He had shown a rapid and disturbing escalation in stalking women, particularly targeting those with blonde hair, evidence later gathered revealed.
The night before he killed Pert, Filo fixed his sights on a couple leaving an eatery in St Heliers at 11.30pm.
After getting in their car and travelling towards their home the couple noticed Filo was following them in his yellow Mazda.
"The complainants made several attempts to lose the defendant by driving through shopping centres and made several sharp turns and U-turns. Each and every time the complainants made these manoeuvres to evade the suspect he continued to overtly pursue them. The complainants became increasingly concerned and rang police," the police summary of facts said.
A patrol car stopped Filo and the officers found he was armed.
Filo was spoken to, the knife confiscated, and then he was let go.
Ten hours later he killed Pert.
Pert's family, who laid the first IPCA complaint, responded to the report's findings:
"We are pleased that the IPCA has rightly concluded that there were failings and errors of judgment on the part of the police who dealt with Filo only hours before he murdered Jo. We note that, because the IPCA felt it was not possible to determine one way or the other what might have happened if the police had acted appropriately, it was not prepared to draw a link between the police actions that evening and Jo's murder.
"We think this a weak conclusion to 'get the boys off the hook'. We strongly believe that, had the police done their job that night, there is a good chance that Jo would still be alive.
"Had they even considered that the knife he had was for the sole purpose of attacking the couple he was stalking, or had they just simply checked the information available which included that his vehicle was wanted in connection to a theft incident, and had they arrested him at that time, his plan to kill someone would have been disrupted. And Jo would not have been killed by him the next morning.
"We sincerely hope that the officers involved, and the police generally, will learn from this terrible incident and that such a tragedy will not happen to another innocent victim."
Once he was arrested for Pert's death, Filo also confessed that he had planned to kill the couple he had been stalking the night before, according to the police summary.
Filo was diagnosed as schizophrenic, complicated by late-stage renal failure for which he'd been receiving regular dialysis treatments since he was a teenager.
The court was told Filo suffered a bacterial infection when he was a child and that illness later developed into renal failure.
He was charged with the murder of Pert but at a hearing last year was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
He was committed as a special patient to the Mascon Clinic.
POLICE 'SHOULD HAVE MADE FURTHER ENQUIRIES'
The IPCA report found the two officers who stopped Filo should have made "further enquiries" when dealing with him, and that the police dispatcher did not pass on all the available information.
However, the IPCA determined it is not possible to draw any link between police actions on 6 January 2016 and Pert's death.
The report noted the two police officers pulled Filo over, noting he was acting "strange" and "really, really weird".
Meanwhile the police dispatcher conducted a vehicle check, which revealed that Filo's vehicle was wanted for an incident involving a theft from a shop.
However she did not recall seeing that information and did not pass it on to the officers who were dealing with Filo.
Nor did she pass on further information about Filo's behaviour which the 111 call taker had obtained from the motorist.
The officers asked Filo why he had a knife, to which he replied 'because it makes me feel safe'. The officers decided to seize the knife, and questioned Filo on why he had been following the couple's car.
Filo told police he had got lost getting home - an explanation the officers accepted.
"...To be honest, yes, I believed him. The information we got from our dispatcher was he was following another guy...I may say that someone's following me, but they say they're lost, so there was no way for me to disprove that," one of the officers told the IPCA.
The officers decided to let Filo go, and followed him for a few kilometres to make sure he did not try find the couple again.
The IPCA found that Filo's behaviour and his possession of the knife "should have prompted the officers to make further enquiries with the dispatcher before deciding what action to take".
The IPCA noted, the dispatcher "could not remember" the entry about the car being sought in relation to a theft but acknowledged that information should have been passed on to the officers.
In a statement, Authority chair Judge Colin Doherty said Filo may have been arrested if the officers who pulled him over were aware.
"If they had made those enquiries and learned of the full extent of Mr Filo's actions, it would have led them to interrogate Mr Filo about the reasons for his actions. In the absence of a more plausible explanation, they might have arrested him and taken him to the station," Doherty said.
"If Mr Filo had been arrested for possession of a knife and taken to the Police station the previous evening, it is not possible to determine what would have happened if he had been questioned further.
"The probability, however, is that he would have been processed and then released on a pre-charge warning as the officers predicted. Even if Mr Filo had been charged, he would in all probability have been released into the community on Police bail. In either event, no Police action would have seen Mr Filo remain in custody."
POLICE RESPONSE TO IPCA FINDINGS
Police have "no intention to review any policy or operational strategy relating to the use of discretion in policing duties" in light of the IPCA report, said Counties Manukau District Commander Superintendent Jill Rogers.
Rogers said police acknowledge the finding that staff "could have made further enquiries and that a dispatcher did not pass on all the available information including that the vehicle Tevita was using was linked to a theft of a loaf of bread".
"Our staff, both at our Communications Centre and on the ground have to make quick decisions in a fast-paced and challenging environment. Police officers are encouraged to use their discretion based upon their assessment of a situation, and this occurs every day, throughout the country. It is common practice for Police to issue roadside warnings for a variety of offences at the roadside.
"In this roadside stop, our staff had to make a decision based on one interaction with Filo. They could not have foreseen what was going to happen. It is natural to try and rationalise what he did, but we now know that Tevita Filo was a very unwell man.
"We would also note that the IPCA found that even if we had taken Tevita Filo back to the station and questioned him further, in all probability he would have been released on a pre-charge warning, and if he was charged would have been released that evening on Police bail.
"We recognise that this has been a traumatic experience, not only for Jo Pert's family and friends but for the other victims he encountered. As the court heard from medical experts, Tevita Filo was a very unwell man, he was an undiagnosed schizophrenic, who was able to mask his illness," Rogers added.
Chris Cahill of the Police Association said Pert's death was tragic, but the responding officers had acted well.
"Even if an officer had arrested Filo for that knife he would have been released back into that public. I don't think anyone could have foreseen the tragic events of the following day."
A PATTERN OF BEHAVIOUR
In addition to Pert's murder, police laid 11 more charges against Filo.
In total he was charged with five counts of being on property unlawfully, three counts of burglary, two of indecent assault, one of preparing to commit a crime in a public place and possessing a weapon.
All of the charges were related to Filo stalking various other women throughout Auckland, including indecently assaulting two of them.
He had gone onto properties in Grey Lynn, Kingsland and Auckland stalking women.
The police later found that a young blonde woman who liked to jog was living at the Kingsland home and Filo also stalked a blonde runner near Mechanics Bay who was so worried about his behaviour she stopped her run and got a taxi.
At the insanity hearing at the High Court in Auckland, the Crown withdrew all of those charges except for the indecent assaults and the murder charge.