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Caught on video: Bungling young bandit jailed for jewellery heist

Craig Kapitan,
Publish Date
Fri, 29 Mar 2024, 4:45PM

Caught on video: Bungling young bandit jailed for jewellery heist

Craig Kapitan,
Publish Date
Fri, 29 Mar 2024, 4:45PM

A young man who joined groups of underage teens in two brazen daylight robberies of high-end Auckland Central jewellery stores - causing losses of over $400,000 and resulting in the hospitalisation of an off-duty police officer who tried to intervene - has been sent to prison. 

“Your offending is exactly what the public and retailers are fearful of and, quite frankly, sick of,” Judge Nicola Mathers told Elijah Jamal Teua Herewini Rawiri, 21, as he returned to the Auckland District Court on Thursday, four months after a jury found him guilty of a swath of crimes dating back to 2022. 

Authorities said Rawiri and two 17-year-olds first set sights on Gold House, a pawn shop specialising in jewellery and other luxury items situated in Victoria St, directly across the street from SkyCity Casino. 

The trio stole a parked Toyota Aqua in Parnell on the afternoon of May 19, 2022, before driving to the business wearing gloves and face masks. As a Gold House employee pushed a button to allow a customer to leave around 4.45pm, the young assailants rushed the entrance with tyre irons and began yelling for staff to get on the ground. 

Smashing glass cabinets inside the business, they shovelled high-end jewellery and handbags with an estimated total value of $161,425 into a black backpack, also robbing a customer of his mobile phone. They fled the store two minutes after they had entered, shattering the glass door as they left and running multiple red lights as they successfully made their way to another vehicle they had stashed in nearby Grafton. 

There were no immediate arrests, but Rawiri was apprehended about three months later after an even more audacious smash-and-grab believed to have involved up to six other young offenders and witnessed by dozens of Queen St pedestrians. 

Their bumbling escape was caught on video. 

@theindianweekender Smash & grab jewellery robbery at 𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗛𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗚𝗹𝗮𝘀𝘀, 𝗤𝘂𝗲𝗲𝗻𝘀 𝗦𝘁𝗿𝗲𝗲𝘁 𝗔𝘂𝗰𝗸𝗹𝗮𝗻𝗱 #auckland #nztiktok #nz #crime #aucklandnz ♬ original sound - Indian Weekender

The bandits piled into a stolen Honda Fit this time before arriving at The Hour Glass jewellery store around 3.35pm. Four of them smashed the front door of the business with a tyre iron and carjack, causing staff and customers to flee to the back of the store as they raided jewellery cabinets. Three others remained outside to fight off good Samaritans who tried to intervene, police alleged. 

One of the bystanders who tried to intervene was an off-duty officer, who saw the stolen Honda was empty and tried to turn off the engine to thwart their escape. But two of the assailants began swinging weapons at him, with one managing to connect with what a witness described to the Herald as a “sickening blow full on the top of the head”. 

The officer, who was bleeding, was later taken to the hospital with moderate injuries, a police spokesperson said at the time. Two bags of loot were left behind during the hasty retreat and a young suspect was abandoned by his mates, pinned to the ground by bystanders. 

“I actually felt weirdly sorry for him,” one witness told the Herald of the pinned assailant, estimating his age to be 10 or 11. “Where are his parents? Has he been taught to do this stuff?” 

Another witness who watched the incident unfold said it was an “absolutely terrifying experience”. 

“After the incident, I asked the caught offender on the ground, ‘What the heck do you think you were doing?’” the witness said. “He replied, ‘I’m only 13, let me go.’” 

But Rawiri was among the others who were able to flee, police said. 

A video posted on social media in the days after the robbery showed the Honda with its hatchback door still open speeding down the busy Auckland thoroughfare before doing a U-turn so that three balaclava-wearing young men sprinting behind it could jump inside. 

Police examine the scene of the Hour Glass jewellery store robbery on Auckland Central's busy Queen St in August 2022.

Police examine the scene of the Hour Glass jewellery store robbery on Auckland Central's busy Queen St in August 2022. 

Yelling could be heard as a bystander kicked the door of the car, retreating after one of the fleeing young men lifted a fist as if preparing to throw a punch. Another bystander threw a traffic cone at the vehicle as the driver pulled a U-turn again and sped off. A person could be seen in the boot as the car sped away, the hatchback door still wide open. 

Judge Mathis said on Thursday that the group managed to cause the business over a quarter of a million dollars in damage and stolen items. 

A former Hour Glass employee said in a victim impact statement referred to by the judge that the incident caused a once enjoyable job to be rife with fear and stress. The employee changed careers as a result. 

Rawiri’s last offence for which he was sentenced today occurred weeks after the Hour Glass robbery, when police in Papakura saw him punching a young woman in the face multiple times and tried to pull over his vehicle. The pursuit was called off, the judge noted, after he began overtaking vehicles, driving up to an estimated 122km/h in a 50km/h zone. 

“In all respects, it is criminality of the worst kind,” she said of the combined offences. “However, despite the animosity of the public [against those who commit smash and grabs] I must be careful ... not to overreact.” 

While she didn’t refer to specific details of his upbringing, the judge said “it makes very depressing reading” and noted he may have never before had a pro-social influence in his life. His upbringing put him at risk of becoming a serious offender and it’s “quite remarkable” his Youth Court history was minimal prior to his adult offending, she said. 

Crown prosecutor Seleti Taimani acknowledged the defendant’s upbringing deserved consideration but disagreed with defence lawyer Joon Yi about how much credit should be given for his youth. The prosecutor pointed out that the robberies were pre-meditated rather than a result of the impulsiveness that sometimes accompanies youth. 

Yi also noted that his client didn’t post a video of the Gold House robbery to social media, although his two co-defendants did. One of the teens, Curtis Webster, was sentenced in the Manukau District Court last October. The other then-17-year-old, Calais Kanuta, recently pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing. 

The judge determined a 10-year starting point for Rawiri but allowed an end sentence of six years’ imprisonment, taking into account his youth, remorse and background. She noted that Webster had received a shorter sentence but had also pleaded guilty and was younger at the time. 

“It is a tragedy for you and your family that you are here before me at the age of 21 with a substantial prison sentence,” Mathers said, encouraging the young father to enrol in prison programmes that might help him with life skills when eventually released. “Now is the time for you to turn your life around and think about the future. Now is your chance. Don’t waste it.” 

Craig Kapitan is an Auckland-based journalist covering courts and justice. He joined the Herald in 2021 and has reported on courts since 2002 in three newsrooms in the US and New Zealand. 

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