Wattie Adolf Kahu during an earlier appearance in the High Court at Whanganui. Photo / NZME
A Black Power gang member with a decades-long history of violent armed kidnappings and police standoffs – including a 2016 incident in Whanganui in which an officer shot him in the head – has won a legal stoush with Corrections over continued monitoring.
Wattie Adolf Kahu, 57, has spent most of his adult life in prison.
He was most recently released on parole in March and continues to be subject to special release conditions until September. Corrections, however, had petitioned the High Court at Auckland for an extended supervision order – or ESO- which would have allowed the agency to impose additional parole conditions for up to five years.
The law only allows ESOs for those who have been found to show “a pervasive pattern of serious violent offending” and who pose “a very high risk” of harming the community through more violent offending. In a judgment released to the media this week, Justice Christine Gordon acknowledged there is a “high risk that Mr Kahu will in future commit a relevant violent offence”. But the risk is not “very high”, she decided.
“That is insufficient to satisfy the statutory test,” the judge said.
Kahu was last sentenced to prison in 2017, ordered to serve a seven-year term in the wake of the latest police standoff after pleading guilty to aggravated burglary, burglary, kidnapping, reckless driving causing injury and two charges of using an imitation firearm to prevent arrest.
Police in Whanganui were searching a residential area a year earlier after receiving reports about a person loitering in the backyard of a home. Kahu then used an air pistol modified to look like a Glock 17 to convince a homeowner to let him inside, hiding from police until he climbed out a window. Police spotted him as he was climbing a neighbour’s fence and ordered him to stop, at which point he pointed the fake gun at two officers.
“Unsurprisingly, they shot you,” Justice Simon Moore said during Kahu’s 2017 sentencing, noting that he was taken to hospital with wounds to his leg and the back of his head but refused treatment.
An Independent Police Conduct Commission investigation later determined the shooting to have been justified.
During that sentencing, prosecutors had asked a judge for a second time to impose preventive detention – an indefinite term of imprisonment reserved for New Zealand’s worst criminals. The judge declined the request but said Kahu managed to avoid it only by the “skin of his teeth”.
His criminal history dates back to a robbery in 1981, when Kahu was 14. He received his first prison sentence two years later. In 1984, he received a four-year term for kidnapping and aggravated offending, in 1986 he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and in 1988 he was sentenced to eight years and 10 months for a home invasion and kidnapping in which he fired a rifle.
In 1996 he was sentenced to over 12 years’ imprisonment for a series of crimes that involved threatening a woman with an axe, stabbing two people with carving knives during a burglary, holding a knife to a shopkeeper’s throat and pointing a gun at the head of another kidnap victim – his fifth kidnapping conviction at that point. And in 2009 he was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment following a standoff with police – one day after he had been released from prison – in which he pointed a double-barrelled, sawn-off shotgun at officers. That spurred the first unsuccessful request for preventative detention.
“His violent offending has been characterised by use of weapons including using or threatening to use knives, kitchen carving knives, a bayonet, an axe, and a gun; and the most recent offending involved use of an imitation firearm fashioned to resemble a Police-issue firearm,” psychologist Fred Bauer noted in a report prepared for the recent ESO hearing.
But the psychologist agreed that Kahu represented a “high risk” rather than a “very high risk” – in part because Kahu was found to have made new attempts at reform during his latest period of imprisonment.
The most recent prison stretch, during which there were no reports of misconduct, is vastly different to his history of antisocial behaviour during previous periods of incarceration, Kahu’s lawyer argued.
Justice Gordon agreed there have been “observable positive results” regarding his attempts at self-improvement.
“This, however, has occurred in the structured prison environment,” she said. “There will be challenges as he seeks to integrate into a pro-social lifestyle following release from the familiar prison environment. Significant support will be required to assist him with what is still a fragile ability to cope with rapid change and stress.”
She noted that, although some of the support that comes with parole will be ending in September, Kahu will still have drug and alcohol counselling available if he wants it and informal contact, if desired, with a support worker from Te Pā – an organisation that helps former inmates. She also noted that his “newfound connection and supportiveness of his adult children” may also help him succeed.
In coming to her decision, Justice Gordon quoted Justice Moore from Kahu’s last sentencing in which he noted that “for the first time you are showing real evidence of wanting to change”. Justice Moore had urged Kahu not to let his supporters down, because doing so “will almost certainly be the very last chance you will ever get to live a life outside jail”.
Justice Gordon added in her own decision: “The issue for the Court is, essentially, will it be different this time? Mr Kahu says it will be.”
Craig Kapitan is an Auckland-based journalist covering courts and justice. He joined the Herald in 2021 and has reported on courts since 2002 in three newsrooms in the US and New Zealand.