A Mongrel Mob gang member is on the run after escaping from a court cell just after being sentenced to jail.
Police are asking for public help to find Mana Justin Tangitutu, 27, an offender who escaped from court this afternoon after being sentenced to a short prison term.
Tangitutu, 27, had been sentenced in the Whakatane District Court this afternoon to four months imprisonment for a family violence assault on a woman.
After being sentenced he was placed in a court cell by police officers on court escort duty. While the officers then dealt with another prisoner, Tangitutu escaped from the cell and managed to leave the court building.
The escape was discovered a few minutes later, about 5.15pm. Cordons were put in place around Whakatane until 7pm and various area inquiries and searches were carried out. The victim of Tangitutu's assault was also contacted immediately and arrangements made to ensure her safety.
Eastern Bay of Plenty police area commander Inspector Sandra Venables said there would be a full investigation into how Mr Tangitutu was able to leave the cell and court building and a review of court escort processes.
"But our priority at this stage is locating him. I appeal to anyone who sees him or knows of his location to contact us immediately. It is of course possible that he will seek refuge with family or friends and I need to make it clear that anyone found to be assisting him in evading police could also face prosecution."
Mana Tangitutu is Maori, about 180cm tall. He has gang affiliations and has a distinctive full facial tattoo with the word "Mongrel" above his upper lip and "MMM" on his forehead, which stands for Mighty Mongrel Mob.
He has links to the Gisborne, Whakatane, Tauranga and North Shore areas. Today's conviction was for violence and he is known to carry weapons so he should not under any circumstances be approached.
Any sightings should be reported immediately via the 111 system. Anyone else who has knowledge of where he is should contact the police or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.