Leap of Faith

NZPA | Wed June 1st, 2016

Sergeant Jonathan Westrupp has no recollection of diving head first through the glass of a second-storey bathroom window during an armed siege in April. Moments beforehand, however, he knows he made a calculated decision that it was the best option to get away from a wanted man who had just shot and killed a police dog in the hallway of the Porirua house. Ellen Brook reports.

A witness told Sergeant Jonathan Westrupp she saw him burst through the glass of a second-storey window and land heavily on the grass below. His right hand, wrist and shoulder took the brunt of the fall. He was concussed, cut and bleeding.

As he lay there unconscious, he was a “sitting duck” under the bedroom window where a gunman was still situated.

When Sergeant Campbell Taylor realised that Jonathan was injured, he ran to his side, grabbed him and dragged him away to cover to await medical help.

In the weeks since, Jonathan, 35, who has been a cop for 10 years, says he has replayed the events of the day over and over in his mind. As his shattered wrist and broken shoulder heal and he faces several more months of rehabilitation, he’s had plenty of time to think.

April 22 had started simply enough for Jonathan, who heads the Waitangirua Community Crime Prevention Team (CPT). He was planning to execute a warrant to arrest in nearby Kokiri Crescent, looking for an offender who had breached electronic bail a few weeks earlier.

The CPT had a particular interest in the case as they had originally arrested the man, wanted on violence, burglary, fraud and theft charges, in January. Although police had opposed bail, the offender was granted electronic bail in Waipukurau. A few weeks later, the offender removed his electronic monitoring device and absconded.

Jonathan had strong grounds to expect that the wanted man would return to the Porirua area and the CPT began monitoring addresses where he was known. That day, signs of occupation were noticed at the Kokiri Crescent address, indicating that the man had returned there.

The team of six who were available on the day included dog handler Constable Joshua Robertson and Gazza, as well as three members of PST and a constable from the Mobile Police Base.

They arrived at the address, armed, and knocked on the door. No answer, but they saw a woman appear at an upstairs window. They knocked again. No answer. They forced entry, clearing the ground level, which was empty, and then heard a woman screaming upstairs.

“Josh and Gazza went upstairs. I was in the No 2 position with the rest of the team behind us and covering the outside of the house. We heard more screaming from behind a closed bedroom door.”

The door was barricaded. Jonathan took up a position in the doorway of the bathroom, immediately to the side of the bedroom door, while Josh forced the door open.

“It was immediately slammed shut from the other side, followed by a gunshot. A hole appeared in the door and there was a deep boom, the sound of a shotgun.”

Gazza had been right up at the door. “He was on his game, he was so keen to get through that door. He took the full brunt of the blast.”

Josh grabbed Gazza around his chest and began backing down the hallway, yelling, “Get out! Get out!”

“They disappeared down the corridor. I was taking it all in. My mind was racing.”

He remembered his Police Integrated Tactical Training – the fatal funnel, “which was that corridor”.

“If I stepped into that corridor, I would be in the danger zone. The walls were very thin and I knew the offender would be able to hear me moving around. He might even have been able to see me through the gunshot hole in the door. He might have decided to shoot through the wall into the bathroom.

“I felt vulnerable and the Glock was useless against a shotgun at close range. I was thinking, ‘Oh no, my family, I’ve got to make it home. I’ve got to get out.”

It was at that point that Jonathan launched himself at the bathroom window, landing several metres below.

He remembers briefly coming to on the ground and feeling pretty good that he had got clear of a man with a gun. “I was happy to be alive, but it was game over for me in terms of the operation.

“Then Cam dragged me to cover, despite the armed offender still being in the house above us. The team was now having to deal with the offender and keep me safe while doing first aid.”

A chopper arrived to take Jonathan, who was slipping in and out of consciousness, to hospital.

“The next day I got out of my hospital bed and realised the extent of my injuries. It was surreal. It’s not part of your training to jump out of second-storey windows.

“Josh came to visit me the next day. I really wanted to see him and get a chance to thank him, one on one. Gazza had saved lives. It could have been me or someone else, either killed or injured.”

Jonathan says he is also grateful for what the wider team did for him.

“Everything surged into action – AOS, CIB, neighbourhood teams. There was also so much support at the hospital for me and my family from Police, the Police Association, plus the bosses and colleagues from my station.”

Kokiri Cres house

A fire gutted the house in Kokiri Crescent, Porirua, where police dog Gazza was killed and Sergeant Jonathan Westrupp escaped from the top-floor bathroom window (the left of the double windows closest to the firefighter on the ladder).

Meanwhile, the siege at Kokiri Crescent had continued into the night until the gunman was found dead at another address in the street early the next morning.

“The death of that man was not what I wanted to happen. He really needed help and we had wanted to get him that help.”

Jonathan has had two stays in the orthopaedic ward of Wellington Hospital for operations on his wrist and shoulder. They had to realign the shoulder and rebuild his wrist, including the radius, with metal and screws and bits of bone from his hip. He has an external metal structure attached to his forearm to stabilise the bones and give them the best chance of healing.

His days are full with rounds of rehab appointments for concussion, hand therapy, physiotherapy, psychoanalysis and outpatient visits.

“I’m used to challenges and I’ve still got work to do and that’s making sure that I get fit and healthy again.” His wife, Naomi, and three young daughters would agree with that.

The events of April 22 are a good example of the dangers of policing, he says. “We visit hundreds of address each year for warrants to arrest. You don’t know which ones are going to suddenly escalate.”

He reflects that most cops have got a story to tell about being in danger. “The job we do is tough, where critical decisions have to be made in quickly evolving and serious situations.

“I have an acute realisation now more than ever of the responsibility on you, as a supervisor for your team and to the public. It’s so important to have a plan that considers the risks and minimises them.”

Jonathan says he is indebted to Josh and the dog squad and has a new appreciation of the role they play in the organisation. “They are really at the coalface, often working alone, right out in front, which is what I saw first-hand in that house.

“It hits you pretty hard to see a dog killed like that… a dog taking a hit for the team.”

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