July 17, 2009

When gang strife became warfare in the street

Ruthless Boot Boys gang members have been jailed for 11-and-a-half years for the day tensions spilled into open gang warfare and gunfire on the streets of Aranui.

Brothers Christopher Allan McKenzie, 32, and Daniel Robert McKenzie, 26, were in a car that did a drive-by shooting at a house where rival Harris gang associates were boarding in Hampshire Street.

They did the shooting in the middle of the day, on a public holiday, when there were people around.

Shots broke a window and embedded in a ceiling, and put a hole in a tin fence and a weatherboard wall.

The shooting was described as lawlessness by the crown, and banditry by Christchurch District Court Judge Stephen Erber.

The brothers denied they were part of a gang and said they had just got Ruthless Boot Boys tattoos on their necks when they were young.

But that idea was laid to rest by crown prosecutor Claire Boshier. She pointed out to Judge Erber that Christopher McKenzie referred to the gang twice in the texts he sent amid the threats and rising gang tensions on the day of the shooting, Waitangi Day 2008.

He used the term “RBB” in a text before the shooting, and afterwards he texted to the Harris gang: “Ruthless Boot Boys stand tall and proud.” The crown presented the contents of the text messaging at the brothers’ jury trial.

The pair have been in custody since their arrests, but they will have quite a stretch still to serve. Judge Erber added to their jail terms because of their bad criminal records and the fact they were on bail at the time of the shooting.

Christopher McKenzie will serve six years with a minimum non-parole term of three-and-a-half years, and Daniel McKenzie — who has less of a record — will serve five-and-a-half years with a non-parole term of three years.

The court heard a lot of about the brothers and the long-standing feud with the Harris gang, when they were sentenced today, a month after the trial.

They were convicted as parties to the shooting, but Judge Erber described it as a joint enterprise for everyone in the car.

Shots were fired from both sides of the car by at least two firearms.

The trial was told the car had left from a house in Pauline Street — known in the neighbourhood as a cannabis tinny house — shortly before the shooting.

The jury found them guilty of unlawful possession of firearms, and firing recklessly in at someone in a public place.

When the pair was first arrested and brought to court, Harris gang members also turned up. There were threats in court, ending in one of the brothers snapping a Nazi salute from the dock.

Defence counsel Doug Taffs and Tim Stevens both argued that the brothers were not gang members.

They grew up on the West Coast and the pre-sentence report referred to their father bringing violence into the household.

Mr Stevens said when they came to Christchurch they were approached by the Harris gang to join the gang but refused to have anything to do with them. There had been animosity ever since.

They had Ruthless Boot Boys tattoos on their necks from many years ago, but they were not a gang, had no headquarters and no constitution.

Judge Erber interrupted: “If you go around calling yourself the Ruthless Boot Boys, it is reasonable to assume that’s what you mean. If that’s how they want to be known, that’s the way it is.”

Mr Stevens said there had been no premeditation with the shooting. It arose from text messaging that just got out of control.

Mr Taffs said the boys grew up in Cobden. They got the tattoos when they were teenagers. It was a childish and adolescent thing at the time.

“It would not be surprising for two rather lonely, rather insecure, and rather abused young men to seek to find some sort of bond of identity, some sort of flag, some sort of common sense of family,” Mr Taffs explained.

He said the very public rebuff to the Harris gang when they came to Christchurch had caused the tensions.

“At the time, the Harris gang was in decline. An organisation called the Road Knights had moved up and was apparently out-competing them, so a slap in the face from two rootless and witless young men from the coast was something they could not publicly tolerate,” said Mr Taffs.

He said the group was “in no way a criminal organisation”.

Miss Boshier said the crown sought non-parole terms because of the seriousness of the crime — a shooting in a suburban neighbourhood, on a public holiday, in the middle of the day.

After presiding over the trial, Judge Erber wondered whether the shooting had arisen from what he called “the transference of affections” by a young woman associated with the group.

He noted there were no victim impact statements, but said that was unsurprising in the situation.

There was clear reference to the Ruthless Boot Boys in the texts, and the group obviously had more members than just the brothers. There were at least three people in the car that did the shooting.

“The fact that no-one was hurt is a matter of very good fortune,” said the judge.

He noted that Christopher McKenzie had nine previous convictions for violence, and Daniel had three convictions for violence and one for unlawful possession of ammunition.

“It is perfectly clear that the protection of the public is paramount,” said Judge Erber. “The attitude of the courts is not one of leniency for this sort of banditry.”