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Man jailed for stabbing  ‘off duty’ police officer

A man who stabbed a police officer and assaulted a tourist in Avarua, Rarotonga, in May last year has been sentenced to one year and two months in jail.

Ngametua Tiatoa represented by defence counsel Michelle Tangimama appeared before Chief Justice Patrick Keane via an audio-visual link at the High Court in Avarua for the charges of assaulting a police officer, wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and possession of an offensive weapon.

The court heard that on May 13, 2023, at around 10am Tiatoa held a can of alcohol and was screaming at those around him outside the Foodland Supermarket.

He approached a New Zealand tourist and without warning, punched the tourist who then immediately went to the police station.

Tiatoa then entered a clothing store and told the staff member not to move, grabbed a pair of scissors and went to the market.

Chief Justice Keane said the second victim, an off-duty police officer, alerted by a phone call from his wife, located Tiatoa, holding an alcohol can and scissors. 

CJ Keane said the officer called for backup and caught up with the defendant at the bridge towards Avatiu wharf, where the defendant turned to the officer, made stabbing motions with the scissors, saying “I’m going to kill you”. The officer backed away, picking up a traffic cone to defend himself.

The Chief Justice said the defendant then headed towards the wharf, yelling threats. Other officers arrived in two vehicles, parked and pursued the defendant on foot. The officer who had pursued him from town reached him first, driving around a dry-docked boat. However, the defendant managed to reach the officer and stabbed him in the right side of his torso, inflicting a 4.5-centimetre wound.

Other officers caught him and arrested him, but he made no statement.

CJ Keane noted that he did not receive a victim impact statement from the tourist. The officer involved, who stated the incident occurred in the line of duty, also declined to provide a statement.

Crown Law prosecutor Tom White said the wounding charge is the lead charge in the offending and they have had no contact with the tourist.

In mitigation, Crown Law took into consideration the mental impairment of the defendant at the time of the offence.

Tangimama in her submission also considered the mental health issue of her client.

CJ Keane stated that the psychological assessment indicated the defendant’s stability when not under the influence of alcohol and substances.

He said the defendant’s parents left him for New Zealand when he was young. The parents separated but his father took him to Australia where he had started offending at a young age.

The defendant was in social welfare custody in Australia until 2014. After his father and siblings returned to Cook Islands, he was sent back to the island where began offending in Rarotonga. 

The court heard on May 4, 2023, after serving his most recent sentence of an eight-month term for assault, he was released on 12 months’ probation, and within a week, arrested for his present offences.

“Despite efforts to turn your life around, your report says you lapsed into substance abuse, attributing that to anxiety and hallucinations. Everyone who has tried to help you has also suffered,” CJ Keane said.

The defendant had said that he assaulted the tourist thinking of someone who had bullied him in New Zealand. 

However, for the charge of assaulting a police officer and causing grievous bodily harm with intent, the defendant admitted his actions, attributing them to past abuse suffered at the hands of the police.

CJ Keane said Tiatoa showed no sign of remorse.

According to a psychological assessment of August 8, 2023, at 18 when he returned to the Cook Islands from Australia, he was dependent and when not in prison, he was on the streets, frequently under the influence of substances. Attempts to assist him to reintegrate with his family have been unsuccessful.

CJ Keane said two weeks before being released for the previous offence, the defendant was assessed and seen to be engaged and focused.

However, the day after arrest of the recent offence, he was psychotic and aggressive and had to be sedated. A day after that he was relatively normal. 

CJ Keana said Tiatoa recalled consuming a bottle of Woodstock and three bottles of Heineken and denied any other substance. 

His medical report showed he was impaired by alcohol, if not substances, and psychotic. 

“Your report concludes you clearly knew what you were doing was wrong, you claimed to be entitled because the police had wronged you in the past, and you were then fit to plead.”