20-year-old bashed head 114 times against concrete in cell, says police watchdog.

The family of a young man who died in a blood-smeared cell after hitting his head against concrete more than 100 times are looking to take legal action against the police.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority report into Sentry Taitoko's death was released yesterday.

The heavily intoxicated 20-year-old from Manurewa had suffered "an extreme and dangerous drug reaction" and police failed repeatedly in their care for him while he was in custody, said authority chairman Sir David Carruthers.

Sentry's brother, John Taitoko, said the family felt vindicated by the report and reinforced in their belief that the death could have been prevented.


They were still unhappy with police. "They failed in their duty."

The family were looking to take legal action against the police. "It's not closed, it's still going," John Taitoko said.

"It's more like the negligence side of it ... he was unmonitored for 50 minutes and in his state he should have been watched five times an hour."

The Taitokos' lawyer, Barry Wilson, said the IPCA found that police did not have the authority to take Sentry Taitoko into custody because he was on private property and was being looked after by family.

"Even if he was going to die, his death should not have occurred in police custody," Mr Wilson said.

The authority also released a report into a review of 31 complaints relating to people in custody.

Both reports highlighted several significant problems with the way in which police dealt with people who are detained in police cells.

When Mr Taitoko was taken to the Counties Manukau district custody unit at 1.45am on February 23 last year for breaching the peace, he was only periodically monitored, Sir David said.


During his time in the cell, he hit his head on the concrete floor and walls 114 times.

"Over time the walls of the cell became smeared with blood from Mr Taitoko's nose and grazes on his body," Sir David said.

Police were unable to resuscitate him when he was found at 5.15am and he was pronounced dead at 6.10am.

Sir David said that by not calling an ambulance or taking Mr Taitoko to hospital, the arresting officers failed in complying with policy.

"This failure was unjustified. Police breached their legal duty of care to Mr Taitoko because they did not seek urgent medical care when they first encountered him, and subsequently failed to carry out appropriate checks on his condition."

The second report found that police officers did not have the necessary expertise and training to deal with some of the challenges presented by the people being held in cells and they were sometimes required to manage people who should not be in custody at all.

"As a result, there are too many instances of attempted suicide, self-harm, and failures by police to seek attention for those that present with medical conditions," Sir David said.

Counties Manukau district commander Superintendent John Tims said the police accepted there were various failings of their responsibility during the time Mr Taitoko was in custody. "We apologise to his family."

Other instances of failure of police care:
• A man who was arrested for fighting in Christchurch in October last year was left in a cell for 45 minutes before officers discovered seven wounds in his back and side.

• A man who hit his head on the pavement while struggling with police in Hastings in August 2012 was thought to be sleeping in the cell, but after eight hours it was discovered he had a fractured skull and needed emergency surgery.

• In December 2013 in Auckland, an 18-year-old arrested man presenting with suicidal risk factors was left alone in a cell and attempted suicide multiple times while in custody.

• In March 2012 in New Brighton, the arresting officer was unaware a detained man was a risk to himself and left him alone in an interview room. A short time later, the man was found having cut himself deeply on his arm with a piece of metal.
(source: IPCA report)