Actions of AOS officers leading up to fatal shooting of Astin Hooper unjustified
The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that, although two Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) officers were acting in self-defence when they fired at Astin Hooper immediately after he shot at them, their prior actions were not justified in the circumstances overall. The AOS officers escalated the situation by driving past an existing cordon towards Mr Hooper, which resulted in him firing at them.
The shooting happened on Thursday 21 February 2019, after Mr Hooper had stolen a shotgun and a ute from his father’s home and robbed the Kawerau Credit Union at about 9am. When local officers found Mr Hooper in the ute about 40 minutes later, Mr Hooper chased their Police car twice around a truck turning bay before driving off. Shortly afterwards, Police caught up to the ute and began pursuing Mr Hooper.
At about 10.21am, Mr Hooper stopped the ute on the side of Onepu Springs Road. Two Police cars stopped behind him, keeping a distance of about 100 metres. A third Police car stopped about 80 metres away on the other side, thus creating a cordon in an attempt to contain Mr Hooper.
Very shortly afterwards, two AOS officers drove past the Police vehicles and towards the ute, intending to arrest Mr Hooper. As they approached, they saw him pointing a firearm towards them from within the ute. The AOS officers stopped and took cover by their vehicle, aiming their rifles at Mr Hooper and calling on him to surrender. Mr Hooper then fired the shotgun once towards the AOS officers, who fired nine shots back at him. Mr Hooper suffered five gunshot wounds and, despite receiving first aid within a minute of being shot, died at the scene.
The Authority found that the AOS officers were legally justified in shooting Mr Hooper in self-defence. However, before that became necessary, they should have stopped at the cordon and sought to de-escalate the situation by communicating with Mr Hooper. They also should have consulted the Incident Controller and obtained his approval for their arrest plan.
“By immediately driving closer to Mr Hooper, the AOS officers unnecessarily escalated the situation, put themselves within range of his shotgun and prompted his reaction. Mr Hooper’s decision to aim and fire his shotgun at the AOS officers was entirely his own responsibility, but the Police response should have afforded him a greater opportunity to reconsider his actions and surrender” said Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty.
The Authority also determined that Police:
- responded to the two initial incidents involving Mr Hooper in a timely and effective manner;
- managed the search for Mr Hooper, and the subsequent pursuit, appropriately and in line with Police policy; and
- provided timely and appropriate medical assistance to Mr Hooper.