Police officer's fatal shooting of machete-wielding Hitesh Lal in Papatoetoe, Auckland justified - IPCA

Hitesh Lal was shot dead last April after wielding a machete at an officer.
Hitesh Lal was shot dead last April after wielding a machete at an officer. Photo credit: Facebook / Getty

A police officer who fatally shot a man wielding a machete in South Auckland was justified in his response, the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has found.

Shortly after 1am on April 20, 2020, Hitesh Lal, 43, rampaged through a residential street in Papatoetoe, damaging cars and property with a machete. 

When a police dog handler arrived at the scene, Lal was attempting to get through a property's smashed window, its residents - including young children - audibly screaming and crying. 

According to the IPCA's report, released on Tuesday, Lal confronted the officer, holding the machete above his head and making slashing motions towards him. The policeman, fearful, began to back away from Lal's advances. He drew his pistol with one hand while controlling the dog with the other, yelling at the 43-year-old to drop his weapon. Lal was screaming, "shoot me, shoot me".

The officer called for urgent assistance as he retreated roughly 30 metres down the street, the IPCA said, with Lal continuing to swing the machete towards him. Lal then corralled the officer at the end of a driveway, where he had no escape.

The officer decided his dog would be ineffective against the oncoming attack and fired two shots at Lal, who fell to the ground after the second bullet. Other officers arrived shortly afterwards and immediately provided first aid. Emergency medical technicians continued to administer treatment, but Lal died at the scene.

"At the time the officer fired each of the two shots, Mr Lal was attacking him with a machete. The only possible alternative the officer had was to deploy his dog," IPCA Chair Judge Colin Doherty said in a statement on Tuesday. 

"The officer made the assessment that this was not the appropriate option in the circumstances. We agree with that decision and therefore find that his actions in firing two shots at Mr Lal in self defence were justified."

The family of Lal said they hold no ill will towards the officer who pulled the trigger. 

Speaking to the New Zealand Herald shortly after the incident, Lal's cousin, Rajiv Raja, said he didn't want to speculate as it was unclear what exactly happened that night. 

"Police told his partner he was basically advancing forward and refusing to put the knife down," he said.

"If you don't put the knife down, if you don't do what you are told - these things will happen."

Raja said he believed his cousin had "snapped" after a heated argument with a relative, and acknowledged that Lal had been drinking and sometimes got "a bit angry". 

The incident drew outrage on social media, with many questioning the series of events that led to the fatal shooting. Some have speculated as to why the officer didn't use the police dog against Lal, or incapacitate him with a Taser.

"They are very professional here, I have faith in our police," Raja told the Herald.

"Sometimes they may not get it right, but when they tell you to do something, you just have to do it."