Independent Police Conduct Authority release report of prisoner death investigation

By Ripeka Timutimu

CCTV footage shows that Sentry Taitoko hit his head 83 times while falling on the concrete walls and floor of his police cell.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority released a report into his death today and a review into police handling of prisoners in cells.

Sentry Taitoko spent just five hours at Counties Manukau Police Station.  His cell wall was smeared with his blood, becoming the place where he lost his life.

Judge David Carruthers says, “An ambulance was called and officers began monitoring his breathing.  However, attempts by paramedics to resuscitate Mr Taitoko were unsuccessful.  He was pronounced dead at 6:10am.”

Judge David Carruthers told reporters despite a police doctor assessing Taitoko, it was deemed unnecessary for Taitoko to be taken to hospital.

“Police sometimes fail to fulfil their duty of care simply because they do not have the necessary expertise and training to deal with some of the challenges presented by people being held in police cells,” says Judge David Carruthers.

It was only two weeks ago that another person died while detained in police custody in Napier.

While that case is still under investigation, Judge Carruthers acknowledges that police are often the first point of call for those needing help in the community.

He says, “In the Authority's view, unless a person experiencing a mental health crisis is violent or poses an obvious and immediate threat to the safety of others, all practicable steps should be taken to avoid having them in police cells.”

The report suggests remedies for this problem.

Judge David Carruthers says, “The Authority has therefore recommended that Police work with the Ministry of Health and other agencies to look at ways of minimising the number of mentally impaired people who are taken into Police custody for a mental health assessment, and to explore ways to improve the current methods of dealing with intoxicated people.”