Poor cell conditions contributed to man's death

By Solbin Kang

The man was waiting to be transferred to Mt Eden Correction Facility from the Papakura District Court. Photo / iStock
The man was waiting to be transferred to Mt Eden Correction Facility from the Papakura District Court. Photo / iStock

Poor conditions at a Papakura court cell contributed to a man taking his own life there, the Independent Police Conduct Authority has found.

In May last year, police arrested Dwayne Walters for breaching his bail conditions and took him to Counties Manukau police station.

Mr Walters had reportedly threatened suicide, but no concerns regarding his welfare were communicated or recorded by any police officer at the station, the IPCA report stated. Mr Walters was transferred to Papakura District Court later that morning and remanded in custody after his court appearance.

He returned to the court cells waiting to be transferred to the Mount Eden Correctional Facility but just before 4pm that day an officer found the man had taken his own life in his cell.

IPCA chairman Judge Sir David Carruthers said the cell's poor condition was a "significant contributing factor" in Mr Walters' death.

"The cell should not have been maintained in a way that presented this level of risk to occupants".

The authority found a large number of other court cells throughout the country operated in similar conditions.

A review was completed on all court cells across the country and a national programme of work was being developed to ensure all court cells were maintained to an appropriate standard.

"The authority is satisfied that in response to its investigations, and the concerns expressed, prompt action has been taken by the ministry. The authority anticipates it will be kept abreast of progress and completion of the work programme," Sir David said.

While some of the officers who dealt with Mr Walters were aware he threatened self-harm, they believed that the "threat was not genuine" and didn't need to be recorded through the system.

The authority found:

• A suicide threat should be formally notified on the police system when it first became known

• The officer who arrested Mr Walters should have been aware that he was reported to have threatened suicide and let staff know

• Since Mr Walters had been discovered in possession of a significant quantity of unknown pills, the custody staff should have completed a Prisoner Management Assessment Form.

However, the IPCA found none of these amounted to misconduct or neglect of duty. The authority also recommended all reports of suicide threats be recorded on the police computer system.

Police Assistant Commissioner for districts Allan Boreham said while the IPCA identified some shortcomings around the recording and notification of an earlier suicide threat, none amounted to misconduct or neglect of duty by police.

He said since Mr Walters' death, Counties Manukau Police had made a number of changes to prevent this from happening again.

This included the evaluation of physical and mental health of the people detained and how this information was handled throughout their time from arrest to their release, he said.

"These new standards and requirements are now in place nationally for all places that police hold people."

Police were also considering the recommendations made by the IPCA in regards to notifying staff of suicidal people arrested.

The Ministry of Justice was in the process of completing a review of all 367 cells across the country.

Districts courts deputy secretary Karl Cummins said the ministry was saddened by the death of Mr Walters.

"Most courthouses were built when there were different standards and as part of the review, we assessed court custodial cells for a number of criteria, including risks to detainees, either from self-harm or assault, and to police and Corrections staff from assaults."

He said while some cells were often vandalised, most were well-maintained.

Mr Cummins said while work to enhance the safety of court cells began before Mr Walter's death, the review was undertaken to ensure a complete overview.

"As a part of the expansion of the Manukau District Court, the busiest district court in New Zealand, new cells were added allowing us to upgrade the existing custodial cells, while work is underway in Auckland's Waitakere District Court as well.

"The adult custodial cells at Papakura were refurbished last year and work on the youth custodial cells is also underway and will soon be completed. We will be prioritising and completing this work as part of the ongoing planned work, especially addressing potential ligature points," he said.

Where to get help:
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youth services: (06) 3555 906
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
The Word
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
CASPER Suicide Prevention
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

- NZ Herald

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