Police bail checks of Shargin Stephens 'oppressive' - IPCA

By Kelvin McDonald
Photo / File

Excessive and unreasonable bail checks on Shargin Stephens who was fatally shot by police in 2016 may have contributed to his lashing out, the Independent Police Conduct Authority has found.

The IPCA has today released the findings of its review into an earlier investigation into the police shooting of Stephens in Rotorua in July 2016.

According to the IPCA summary, at approximately 12:55pm on Thursday 14 July 2016, a police officer shot Stephens twice after he advanced on the officer with a 1.15 metre long ‘slasher’ on Te Ngae Road, Rotorua. Mr Stephens died from his injuries 12 days later in Hamilton hospital.

Whānau and media raised issues concerning the police actions, including the frequency of bail checks, which the IPCA considered during its review.

"The unreasonable and oppressive frequency of bail checking may have contributed to Mr Stephens’ views of Police and the actions he took on 14 July 2016. However, the fact that unreasonable Police prior actions probably contributed to events does not justify Mr Stephens’ specific actions at the time,” Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty says.

Police records show Stephens, who was on electronically monitored bail at his home, was checked 70 times over 38 days, often on multiple occasions each day and overnight for compliance with bail conditions, such as not to consume alcohol or drugs. However, there are no records of him breaching his bail conditions.

"At the time of this incident, there were no guidelines or expectations in Police policy or practice setting out the expected or reasonable frequency of bail checks. Crucially there was (and still is) no oversight or supervision of the frequency or reasonableness of bail checking," Judge Doherty says.

The Authority recommended that Police undertake a fundamental review of all aspects of bail checking, making specific provisions for:

• Clear ownership of bail policy, practice, and procedure within Police, both at District and National levels, including development of a deployment model for bail checking.

• Guidance to officers of what constitutes reasonable bail checks (in terms of content, timing, and frequency).

• An appropriate mechanism for oversight of bail checks being undertaken at a frontline, district, and national level.

• Clarity of purpose of Police bail checks when a person is on electronically monitored bail.

• Criteria set out for how offenders are prioritised for checking.

The Authority, which started this review in June 2021, says the main finding of its original 2017 report is unchanged, namely that "the Police officer was justified in shooting at Mr Stephens in defence of himself and members of the public.

"Mr Stephens’ family and media alleged that camera footage of an officer’s Taser had been manipulated by Police to remove a vital section covering the shooting. We are satisfied there is no missing footage. There are seven seconds which are not captured on the Taser camera, most likely due to a common technical fault in the apparatus," the IPCA said.