The Independent Police Authority has found the Tauranga fatal police shooting of a man who was holding his young daughters hostage in November last year was justified though it made two recommendations to police for a change in approach
At about 2.55pm on Sunday, November 24, 2019, Ethan Kerapa, was shot dead by police. He had held his two daughters, aged six and four, hostage for the preceding 15 hours.
Kerapa had attended a party with his partner and the two children on the Saturday night, at which he had been involved in a fight and several altercations. When they arrived home he barricaded his partner and the children inside and threatened her with a knife.
She escaped and called the Police at about 12.20am on the Sunday. One of his threats to her was to the effect that she would be the reason his children would die that night.
The initial Police responders found Kerapa barricaded in the wardrobe of an upstairs bedroom and holding a knife to one of his children. He swiped the knife at attending Police. They were unable to negotiate with him and decided to withdraw.
Kerapa followed them partway down the stairway. He had one of his daughters in front of him and was holding a large knife up to her throat. He began to count down, implying that if Police did not leave, he would hurt the child. Police left the house and Kerapa retreated back to an upstairs bedroom. Officers established a cordon and attempted to appeal to him to release the children.
Worried about children
Police negotiators tried to persuade Kerapa to release his daughters and give himself up. But by 1.30pm St John paramedics expressed concern about the health of the two children due to the potentially very high temperatures in the room in which they were held, and their lack of food or water since the incident began. They advised that children were particularly susceptible to dehydration and overheating, which could result in a comatose state. Police had not heard any sounds from the hostages for some time.
The negotiation team had not had any success in building rapport or influencing Kerapa despite the range of techniques they used. This combination of factors led the Incident Controller, in consultation with other commanders present, to order an operation to rescue the hostages. Police used many entry points into the house, including an external first floor window using a specialist ladder. The ladder team confronted Kerapa while their colleagues were simultaneously breaking through the bedroom door from inside the house. Kerapa held a large knife at his daughter’s throat and, despite warnings, he would not put the weapon down.
Tasered, then shot
An officer at the bedroom door attempted to taser Kerapa but it appeared to have no effect. An officer on the ladder then fired a single shot from a Glock pistol that struck Kerapa in the head. The children were rescued and were immediately taken from the house and given first aid. Kerapa was given immediate first aid by STG and AOS members until a paramedic confirmed that he was dead.
The authority found the decision to enter the bedroom to rescue the hostages was justified. It also concluded the use of force when securing the release of the hostages was justified. It said control and command of the hostage situation was, in general, well planned and conducted; the Police negotiations during the hostage situation were also appropriately planned and conducted.
But it said the incident controller should have ensured the children’s welfare by passing them food and water by any means possible until they could be rescued.
And it found the appointment of a designated family liaison officer at the scene would have benefited both the children’s family and the police operation.