Q. In the past five years, you've led Operation Sinatra [into the sexual offending by brothers Danny and Roberto Jaz – including rape and stupefying] and also the Lauren Dickason murder case, dubbed Operation Royal [siblings Liané, 6, and 2-year-old twins Maya and Karla died in 2021]. How do you manage such competing demands?
A. It just comes down to how invested our staff are. As a manager, it’s trusting that the staff are able to carry out their jobs to achieve our goals… The Dickason case was and still is particularly difficult because there’s the three little girls who are the ultimate victims; a dad now with no children; the mother who's obviously going to be in jail, but also now has no children; and then her parents, who have allegiance to their daughter but have also lost three grandchildren – they are victims as well. As investigators, we deal with all those dynamics, pull them together for court, and that’s really harrowing for many people.
Q. The Dickason case, in particular, there wasn't anyone whose heart didn't sink at the thought of it. How did you manage staff welfare throughout?
A. It took a huge toll on me, took a huge toll on the investigation team, as well as the uniformed cops who turned up on the night. That crew had the five [teenagers] who died in a car crash a couple of weeks before. The trauma our people experience day in and day out, we have to really recognise it and take active steps to manage it. While initially we are better at seeking help to manage our way through the big black cloud – the trauma – it’s the days, the weeks and months later that you start reflecting. That‘s when the burden, the cloud, closes in on you.
It was nearly two years until the court case for Dickason... several witnesses found it more difficult than they thought it would be giving evidence, reliving those moments, dredging it all back up. Having welfare at the front end doesn't mean you don’t need it at the back end of the process too.
Q. What about looking after yourself and your family?
A. We probably put ourselves last because we get so focused on doing the job. That can be detrimental. My wife knows when the pressure comes on in relation to the trauma of what's going on. It’s those who are around you [who] can help you get through it, but maybe some of the younger members won't have someone close who can recognise the signs and that can be difficult.
Q. In these kinds of cases, what aspects stay with you?
A. The people who get left behind. The ones who unfortunately have to keep on living with it. It’s the ones who have to deal with the investigation and then hopefully a prosecution, who, by default, we form relationships with, and realise the pain that they go through. And to a certain extent you walk it with them. That’s the bit you’ve got to learn to deal with.
Q. Do you manage high public interest cases any differently?
A. I don't think so, no. We have to be professional in everything we do with members of the public… give the same service to everyone who walks in the door, whether it be a theft, a robbery, or a homicide. But as an organisation, we get judged on how we do in the serious murders that get media attention.
Q. Both these cases have nearly concluded (Lauren Dickason is yet to be sentenced). What do you do to move on or wind down from that?
A. Hunting, fishing and tramping. The Mackenzie Country is a favourite place of mine. Really, anywhere where there's not a lot of people… and I balance it with my wife and family and other activities.
Q. With Operation Sinatra, how many staff were involved and how did you manage Covid, staff rotations and staff comings and goings?
A. The case had peaks and troughs. It sort of puttered along for a bit until it really ramped up. For the trial, we had six of us… This beast, like a lot of protracted matters, sort of comes and goes. So I would pull five together from wherever they were working to come back and focus for a period of time on Operation Sinatra to get itthrough a different phase and then they would go back to their normal workplaces.
Q. When you issued a press release in late 2018 outlining Police concerns about Mama Hooch and drink spiking, did you expect to get as many people to come forward as you did?
A. There was no expectation but there was anecdotal evidence on social media that it was happening. With that and gossip in town there had to be numerous victims.
Q. Have you have had any other cases with this many complainants?
A. No, this is the largest in relation to complainants.
Q. Was there a core team responsible for looking after the complainants?
A. When the complainants came to police in 2017 and 2018, they did see different officers, but in the lead-up to the prosecution phase, consistency and forming relationships were important. It was [Detective] Helen Mahon-Stroud who kept these young people focused over five years. Given it was a sexual assault case, they had to divulge their very, very darkest day to others in court. Helen being a mother [as she described it] to the 32 complainants was how we ended up with that number for the trial. The reason we were so successful at trial is because most of those victims turned up and gave really good evidence. It's not acceptable it took five years to resolve.
Unfortunately, it is how the justice system works and we had Covid in mix. Some victims didn't want any contact for months, others wanted contact every month and we were cognisant of needing to understand that.
Q. How intense was the preparation for the complainants?
A. It’s about forming the relationship and being really honest about what’s required and that it isn’t going to be easy. Don’t set them up to fail; and provide the support outside of police to help them through the rest of their lives.
Q. You spent time with the victims after the Jaz brothers were sentenced. Do you feel like the young women are satisfied with the sentences?
A. They are more happy that it's over. It's been dealt with. The judge was thorough in the way he looked at the evidence, and with no precedent for sentencing people on this type and level of offending, the sentence given was significant. So some will be happy, some will not and may never be happy.
It was most telling when they read out their victim impact statements, the impact that it’s had on their lives and will continue to have on their lives… You know, everyone knows a female. It could have been any of them.
If I were to single out two people for Sinatra, it would be Detective Roger Carran, the file holder who started and carried this for five years to completion. And Helen, for her work with the young women. Those two did exceptional jobs in relation to this whole thing.
Q. The Lauren Dickason case, have you been involved in any cases similar to that one?
A. No. There was no precedent, and it’s good that it’s that rare. The verdicts [guilty on three counts of murder] were a matter for the jury and we believe they reached the right decision.
Q. What was the process around what to charge her with – murder or infanticide?
A. It was always murder. There was no doubt. Infanticide and insanity are actually defences... If, after we charged her with murder, we then received evidence that supported infanticide, we would have charged her with infanticide but the evidence didn't support that, so that's why we stuck with murder.
Q. Do you get some kind of reprieve now or is it just “Right. I’m on shift, I’m at work, off I go”?
A. Yes, 100%. It’s what we come to do every day. We look at what's in front of us and keep moving forward.
Danny Jaz, 40, and Roberto Jaz, 38, were sentenced in August on 69 charges and jailed for 16½ and 17 years, respectively, for drugging and sexually assaulting women at Christchurch bar Mama Hooch and restaurant Venuti. Scott Anderson gave media one word to describe the brothers: “Predators.”
Lauren Dickason, 42, was convicted in August of murdering her daughters on September 16, 2021. She pleaded not guilty to murder, claiming she was mentally disturbed. She is yet to be sentenced and has been remanded at Hillmorton Hospital.