Call for apology after police allegedly mock gun owner

Olivia Caldwell



Stuff NZ Newspapers


An 81-year-old diabetic amputee was woken by armed police, removed from his home and allegedly mocked as officers seized his antique gun collection, his family say. Months later, Robert Keenan received a letter from police saying he could collect his firearms. But Keenan had died two days earlier because of complications from diabetes. His family says the stress of the raid contributed to his deteriorating health, and they want an apology from police for the conduct of the officers who seized the 110 guns from Keenan’s Auckland home in September. Keenan’s lawyer, Nicholas Taylor, claims the incident is part of a disturbing trend of police firearms confiscations based on spurious grounds, often from elderly gun owners, that ultimately come to nothing. Counties Manukau detective Warrick Adkin said there was no evidence to suggest police acted unprofessionally during the raid at Keenan’s home. Keenan’s daughter, Therese Irving, said she believed the raid contributed to her father’s death. ‘‘He had almost given up on the will to live, he had gone in to quite a bad depression. He didn’t know whether he was getting [the guns] back, or was getting charged.’’ At 8am on September 21 – the first morning of Auckland’s level 3 lockdown – Keenan heard a knock at his door. He got out of bed, fitted his prosthetic leg and used his wheelchair to get to the front door. He was met by seven armed officers, who asked to see his antique gun collection. They told Keenan they had reason to believe he had gang affiliations and was not fit to hold a firearms licence. Keenan waited outside for six hours while police searched his home. At no point was he asked if he needed family support. Irving said her father had been collecting the guns for more than 40 years. The ornamental collection was his retirement fund. ‘‘You wouldn’t fire them because you are more liable to hurt yourself and blow up the gun ... they are antiques and many [are] over 200 years old.’’ Keenan had no criminal record, but in 2020 a relative stole two guns from his safe, which he reported to police. Police told The Press one of those stolen firearms was later found at a gang member’s house. Adkin said the raid at Keenan’s house was a matter of urgency to prevent ‘‘firearms potentially getting into the hands of gang members’’. Police did not have a search warrant, but gave Keenan a letter citing the 1983 Arms Act, suggesting he was either a member of, or had close affiliations with, a gang or organised crime group. ‘‘Police have become aware that you have been supplying firearms to a gang,’’ it said. While confiscating the guns, police were allegedly caught on video cameras – installed by the family for Keenan’s care – mocking the 81-yearold. ‘‘They just imitate the way that he walks because he is an amputee, he is not very steady on his feet,’’ Irving said. ‘‘At one point they have a little pretend shootout like cowboys with the guns and then at another point one of them goes, ‘Oh I love the smell of guns’. It is just inappropriate, their whole behaviour.’’ Direct quotes from the footage, provided by Irving’s counsel, who viewed it, support her claims. ‘‘That would be pretty cool though – to rock up to a job with your sixshooter revolver,’’ one officer says. The same officer continues while his colleague laughs: ‘‘Oh I’d love a sawn-off shottie [shotgun], me. A sawn off shottie would be so much more effective ... You come across someone aiming a gun at you, and you just hit him – boom – point-blank with a 12-gauge, and they’re done. You don’t even have to aim.’’ Irving said the officers’ conduct was abrupt and disrespectful to her father. ‘‘As far as they were concerned he wasn’t a victim, he was the perpetrator.’’ She said police have provided contradictory explanations for the raid – that Keenan was both selling guns to gang members and that he was an innocent party at risk of having his weapons stolen by them. Taylor, a firearms expert, said the family would seek an apology and ‘‘appropriate disciplinary action’’ through the Independent Police Conduct Authority. After writing to police, Taylor received a reply from Senior Sergeant Stewart Neal saying Keenan could collect his guns. ‘‘Police have genuine concerns that your address may be the target of organised criminal gangs. Police still hold these concerns,’’ it said. The letter arrived days after Keenan died on November 23. Taylor believed police made multiple errors and breached the Bill of Rights. They had no evidence Keenan had broken the law, he said.