Call for cell-death probe

By Amy Maas

Family bring in top QC and Maori Party to find out why man died in police custody

Mourners carry Sentry Taitoko to his grave in the Manukau Memorial Gardens.
Mourners carry Sentry Taitoko to his grave in the Manukau Memorial Gardens.

The family of a man who died in police custody have asked a high-profile Auckland lawyer to seek answers about the death.

Sentry Taitoko
Sentry Taitoko

Manurewa man Sentry Taitoko - known as Kslate to his friends - died in a holding cell after being arrested "violent and drunk" last Sunday.

His brother, John Taitoko, told the Herald on Sunday that it was too soon to speak about what may have happened in the five hours the 20-year-old was held in custody.

"We're getting an independent investigation with the Maori Party, with Pita Sharples and Peter Williams. It's already sorted," he said.

Peter Williams, QC, confirmed he and partner Heeni Phillips would meet the family tomorrow to discuss their options.

"I can't make any comment until we've spoken to them and see what they require," he said.

"There will be a coroner's inquiry in due course and probably that will be the main matter, but they may have material and things they want to tell me."

About 200 people were at Taitoko's funeral on Friday. Some of those at the ceremony questioned what had happened, saying there were "different stories" about how he died.

"Some people say police were outside the cell, some said he died of breathing problems but I don't know, " said a friend who did not want to be named.

Taitoko was arrested at 1am on Sunday at a Manurewa address where police found family members trying to restrain him. Police said he was "violent and aggressive".

He was placed in a monitored cell and a police doctor assessed him. At 5am his breathing was laboured. CPR was performed until ambulance staff arrived but he died at 6.10am.

A police spokeswoman said an autopsy was unable to establish the cause of death and police were awaiting toxicology results.

The death has been referred to the coroner and the Independent Police Conduct Authority, and a criminal investigation and a police policy and procedures investigationare under way.

- Herald on Sunday

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