Public deserve to know more about death of Hawera man, says advocate

By Jessica Tyson

Social advocate Emilie Rakete says the public deserves to know more about the death of a man who died at the Hawera Police Station a year ago.

The 55-year-old man died while in custody at the Hawera police station and police yesterday announced three of their officers have been charged with manslaughter in relation to the death.

"For a police officer to be held criminally liable for that killing is very unusual and I think that shows the depth of the failure that must have occurred for this to be happening," says Rakete, founder of advocacy group People Against Prisons Aotearoa.

Police say the man was drunk when he was arrested for assault during a family harm incident. Charges against the officers allege that they were grossly negligent in their duty of care to the victim and that this negligence was a causal factor in his death.

Rakete says, “The Independent Police Authority has never to date found the police shooting of someone unjustified. So in this country, generally, police are not held accountable for the killings of people in their custody, especially not Māori. So something like this happening is definitely a deviation from the norm and something that we People Against Prisons Aotearoa are really interested in.”

Further circumstances in which the death occurred have not been made public, and that's something which must change, says Rakete.

“People have a right to know what those officers did to that man in the holding cells that have made them criminally liable for his death.”

Police say the decision to file charges was made after a thorough investigation and consideration of legal advice from the New Plymouth Crown Solicitor and a Queen’s Counsel.

All three officers have been granted interim name suppression and remanded on bail to appear at the New Plymouth High Court on June 26.