Police watchdog finds officers should tend to wellbeing first

By Te Ao - Māori News

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has ruled police should have taken a semi-conscious man straight to a hospital for treatment, rather than moving him to a cell in a police truck and later a police station cell.

Police officers involved had told IPCA investigators the man had been aggressive and uncooperative and they were concerned that taking him to a hospital would create trouble for hospital staff.

The man, referred to as Mr X in the IPCA ruling, drifted in and out of consciousness for almost three hours in custody before officers took him to hospital.

Mr X remained in Middlemore Hospital’s intensive care unit overnight and was released the following day. He has no recollection of his dealings with the Police during this incident.

The authority found that officers had grounds to arrest Mr X but his health and wellbeing should have taken precedence and he should have been transported directly to hospital; it was unacceptable to keep Mr X in the prisoner transport truck cell for 44 minutes at the Manukau Police Station and should have been taken directly to a hospital; officers should have placed Mr X in the recovery position in the station cell; and the 56-minute delay in transporting Mr X to hospital following the doctor’s assessment was unreasonable. The authority said the officers had not dealt with the matter properly.

Erratic behaviour

The IPCA said officers prioritised physical safety over Mr X’s medical safety. They should have taken Mr X directly to the hospital as he had been snoring loudly and did not initially respond to several attempts to wake him when officers first arrived at the property;  he had consumed a large amount of alcohol and appeared intoxicated;  he had most likely consumed GHB;   he was behaving erratically;  he had injured himself by hitting his head against his house wall and attempted to bang his head on the fence;  he had dropped to the ground, hitting his head on concrete; and his level of responsiveness and consciousness kept changing.

At about 11.30am on September 15, 2019 Police received three phone calls reporting that Mr X, was shouting and swearing at an address in Manurewa and was possibly assaulting his partner. They were told the man was drunk and smashing his head against a wall.

Two officers attended and spoke to Mr X’s partner, Ms Y, who said Mr X had been drinking then something made him “flip”. The officers located Mr X about 25 metres down the driveway. He appeared to be asleep and was snoring loudly. Mr X had injuries to his face and was initially unresponsive so the officers requested an ambulance.

Drunk and drugged

Once he was woken, he became aggressive and uncooperative. Mr X was placed in handcuffs and attempted to self-harm, banging his head on a fence. Officers learned he was possibly under the influence of drugs.

Mr X was initially arrested for disorderly behaviour, then for possession of cannabis after a small amount was found on him. Officers were told there would be an extensive delay in an ambulance attending so decided to take Mr X directly to the custody unit at Manukau Police Station.

They were given an 0800 number to call to seek ambulance service advice about the man but did not call it. They had noted he was snoring heavily but thought that meant he was breathing.

While being assisted to the prisoner transport truck, Mr X fell to the ground and hit his head on the concrete driveway. Once at the custody unit, Mr X was left in the prisoner transport truck cell for 44 minutes while a decision was made whether he should be taken to the hospital or received into the custody unit.

He was eventually placed in a custody unit cell and seen by a Police doctor over an hour later. The doctor said Mr X needed to go to the hospital.

Police notified the authority and also conducted their own investigation. Police found there was no evidence of criminal negligence by Police employees.

However, they found the officers should have taken Mr X to the hospital earlier and should have placed him in the recovery position in the cell. The Police investigator made recommendations which included improvements to first aid training provided to staff about drugged and intoxicated people.