Anna Leask

Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Killer linked to another jail assault

Latu Kepu. Photo / Christine Cornege
Latu Kepu. Photo / Christine Cornege

A dangerous prisoner who killed a guard is being investigated for two separate assaults on Corrections officers within two weeks.

The Herald has learned that two incidents involving Latu Kepu allegedly injuring guards have been referred to the North Shore police for investigation and criminal charges are pending.

Kepu is serving time for killing Jason Palmer at Auckland Prison at Paremoremo in May 2010. Mr Palmer was opening Kepu's cell door to escort him to the exercise yard when he was attacked. He fell backwards and hit his head on concrete paving, causing fatal injuries.

Kepu was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six years and four months in jail. When he killed Mr Palmer, Kepu was serving time for violent assaults including repeatedly kicking a police officer in the head and attacking a pregnant woman.

Last week the Herald revealed Kepu allegedly assaulted a guard on October 31. Yesterday the Corrections Department said it was investigating a similar assault on October 20.

Both officers were taken to hospital and treated for injuries. Neither was seriously hurt and both returned to work soon after.

Police confirmed they were looking into two incidents involving the same inmate at Paremoremo.

They wouldn't comment on specifics or any details to do with the prisoner as the matter was under investigation.

But police would look at the allegations thoroughly and lay criminal charges if it was appropriate.

"No right-thinking person likes to hear a New Zealand prison officer has been assaulted in the line of duty," a spokesmen said.

"The result of the investigation will be announced in due course."

Auckland Prison acting manager Tom Sherlock said the first assault was referred to police on October 22.

"Corrections takes the issue of violence in prisons extremely seriously and our priority is staff safety," he said.

"The department will not tolerate prisoners using violence against staff ... prisoners can be volatile and many have long histories of antisocial behaviour and resort to violence with little warning."

Mr Palmer's widow, Tracey, said she was flabbergasted to hear of the second alleged assault.

She spoke out last week about the October 31 incident and was upset when the second allegation was confirmed to her yesterday.

"Oh my God, you've got to be joking?

"I'm really angry, this is just ridiculous," she told the Herald.

"It's absolutely crazy. I'm disappointed ... [Corrections] are not learning. This keeps happening, they are not taking the right precautions."

She said every assault on a guard had the potential to destroy a family like hers.

"It could be another guard's family ... the last thing I would ever want is for anyone to go through what we've had to go through.

"It's not nice, I don't wish it on my worst enemy. This is a shock, it's blown me away - again."

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley said she was informed of all assaults.

"They are completely unacceptable, I take them extremely seriously, and one is too many,' she said.

"I've been having discussions over the last few weeks with the Corrections chief executive about how staff safety can be reviewed and improved, and I expect to make an announcement next week.

"There are currently 8500 prisoners and each poses a different risk. If any assaults a prison officer, I would expect immediate action to be taken to minimise future risk."

- NZ Herald

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