Court dismisses appeal of tāne shot dead by police

By Will Trafford

Steven Wallace. Photo / Supplied

The whānau of a man shot dead by a police officer have been dealt a fresh blow, with the Court of Appeal dismissing their claim against the police and Attorney-General.

Steven Wallace was shot outside the Waitara police station in Taranaki in 2000; his mother Raewyn has been on a 22-year battle for accountability ever since.

Senior Constable Keith Abbott wasn’t prosecuted at the time of the shooting, the Crown agreeing Abbott shot Wallace in self-defence because he feared for his life as the 23-year-old attacked a police car and the police station with a golf club.

A civil case against the police and Attorney-General played out in the High Court last year, with the Wallace whānau arguing Abbott had deprived Wallace of his right to life.

The High Court found that on the balance of probabilities Abbott probably did believe his life was in danger, so found the self-defence argument valid, but said the subsequent investigation did not comply with the necessity enshrined in the bill of rights to be independent.

The Wallace whānau lawyers appealed the decision but in a ruling yesterday, the Court of Appeal reaffirmed the lower court’s ruling.

"Constable Abbott acted in self-defence in the circumstances as he honestly and reasonably understood them to be and the force he used was reasonable," the ruling reads.

The three Court of Appeal judges also rolled back the lower court’s ruling that the investigation was not sufficiently independent.

"In our view the investigations collectively met the state's obligation to investigate both the lawfulness of Constable Abbott's use of lethal force and the adequacy of police planning and control of the operation which ended in Mr Wallace's death."

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