David Cerven, killed by police in Auckland, 'contributed to his death' - Coroner

A coronial inquest has found a man shot dead by police in an Auckland park "wittingly or unwittingly contributed to his death".

David Cerven was shot and killed by police in Myers Park in Auckland on the evening of August 2, 2015, after telling police to meet him to talk about a robbery.

The Slovakian national died aged 21, five months after he and partner Eva Vyrvova had moved to New Zealand on one-year working visas.

In the week leading up to his death, three aggravated robberies were committed on the North Shore, on July 26 and 29, and August 1. On the third robbery, Mr Cerven is believed to have left a bag at the scene with his passport in it.

Coroner Katharine Greig said "on the basis of the evidence presented to my inquiry (including Mr Cerven's confession to at least one of the robberies) I accept on the balance of probabilities that he did commit these robberies."

On the afternoon of August 2, he became aware police had released his name on Facebook, saying they were looking to speak to him about an armed robbery.

He confessed to the robbery to Ms Vyrvova. They agreed to visit a couple they'd stayed with when they first arrived in New Zealand, the Steedmans, to ask their advice.

Mrs Steedman was home and Mr Cerven left Ms Vyrvova with her, saying that he'd go to police and turn himself in. He ran away from the house crying.

The pair were in sporadic contact over the next few hours. Ms Vyrvova said at times he was "sounding normal" but at others he was really upset, "crying and laughing at the same time".

He called police at 7:20pm, saying he wanted to meet in Myers Park "because everybody thinking that I robbery something but I nothing robbery".

When asked if he had any weapons, he replied: "Yes I am waiting thank you." The call-taker believed this meant he was armed, and the situation escalated immediately.

The Coroner said with the benefit of hindsight: "I am not necessarily satisfied that at that stage Mr Cerven was saying that he had a weapon or weapons."

It was not clear, given his limited command of the English language, whether he'd properly understood what was being asked.

In the hours preceding the shooting he was in a "heightened emotional state", Coroner Greig said. She said it's unclear what his intentions were when he asked police to come to Myers Park.

When the first two police officers arrived at the scene, they say Mr Cerven told them he had a gun. As more officers arrived he repeatedly refused to comply when told to take his hands out of his pockets and lie face down on the ground.

Two armed officers arrived at the scene, and told him: "Armed Police, get down on the ground". He then pulled his hands out of his pockets, bringing them together and pointing them in the direction of the officers.

All of the officers interpreted this as being that he had a gun that he was pointing at officers.

Coroner Greig said it's not clear whether at this point Mr Cerven had a self-destructive intent to provoke the police to use lethal force, or whether he thought they believed he had a gun (it was later discovered he did not have a gun).

"I am left in a state of uncertainty about his actions and intent, and accordingly am unable to conclude that his death was a suicide," she said.

Regardless of his intent, she found his actions - particularly after being challenged by armed police - "wittingly or unwittingly, contributed to his death".

After arriving in New Zealand, Mr Cerven worked as a labourer and then a roofer, and was liked by his colleagues.

He told colleagues and his employer at his first job that his knee had been injured in the Iraq war but the army wouldn't pay for his surgery, and so his mother had taken out a loan for him.

He told a colleague at his second job that he'd been injured in a knife fight and needed $20,000 for knee surgery.

These explanations were not true, the Coroner found; his knee had been injured in a kickboxing fight.

His colleagues told the coroner he appeared emotional when talking about his financial problems, and when he couldn't extend his visa due to not having the requisite skills.

After his death, police inquiries found Mr Cerven discussed two loans in Slovakia totalling €30,000 ($51,600) in a conversation with his mother. He told her his life was ruined and he'd never return. She urged him to keep up the loan repayments and offered to take them over.

While in New Zealand, police and the Independent Police Conduct Authority found he'd spent almost $7000 gambling online.

Coroner Greig found no evidence that Cerven had any physical ill health history of note or ill mental health, and no alcohol or drugs were detected in his blood.

He and Ms Vyrvova appeared to be in a loving, stable relationship and had been together for two and a half years.

Coroner Greig extended condolences to Mr Cerven's mother and Ms Vyrvova.

"I acknowledge the loss of a dearly loved son and partner in circumstances that were sudden and shocking and made even more difficult because his death occurred in a country far from home."

Police have acknowledged Coroner Greig's findings, which corroborate with Police and the IPCA's findings that the actions of Mr Cerven contributed to his death, and the officers' actions in shooting him were justified.

Assistant commissioner Richard Chambers said: "This was an extremely challenging and tragic outcome for all where my staff had to make split-second decisions under considerable pressure and had to consider not only the risks to themselves, but the risk to the general public.

"This was not an outcome that any of my police officers wanted. This was a tragedy for everyone involved and my sympathies remain with the family of Mr Cerven. My support also continues for my courageous staff who were involved in this extremely volatile and high-pressure incident."