Former Maori All Black and East Coast player Te Rua Tipoki, who earlier this year admitted repeatedly punching an unconscious man at a 2015 party on the East Coast, has been sentenced to two months home detention.
Tipoki, 42, was sentenced this morning by Judge Warren Cathcart in Gisborne District Court on a charge of assault with intent to injure arising from an incident exactly two years ago today.
The sentence also covered unrelated charges arising out of a road rage-type incident in April last year — drink-driving (647mcg) and an assault.
The judge said the offending was a massive fall from grace for Tipoki, who previously had a clean record and was otherwise the kind of success story Gisborne needed.
Born into low socio-economic circumstances, Tipoki had overcome adversity to achieve outstanding success as a rugby player and role model. He had assisted the community enormously and been particularly active in supporting youth.
However, building a reputation was like building a house — it took a long time to establish and only a moment to destroy. Such was the case here.
This conduct must have had a real impact on Tipoki and on his otherwise positive good character, the judge said.
He had pleaded guilty to the lead charge — assault with intent to injure — midway through a jury trial earlier this year. His father, charged as a party, had been cleared during the trial of any involvement.
It was accepted Tipoki became aggrieved with the complainant, who accused him of fishing in a marine reserve soon after arriving. There was ongoing friction between the pair and at one stage the other man punched Tipoki in the nose (a private investigator hired by the defence confirmed it).
Tipoki, nursing a blood nose and possibly mildly concussed, had gone outside and was sitting on a hill. He probably went back towards the driveway area of the house after hearing noises, including his father's voice, and out of concern that the older man might also be under attack.
The man was already lying there unconscious on the ground. (Evidence was that he had received a "king hit" from another partygoer.) Tipoki repeatedly punched him about the head and face — four or five strikes in all. That was an inherently dangerous act, the judge said. But he accepted Tipoki realised the man's unresponsive state only during the course of those actions.
The road rage incident about five months later occurred when Tipoki, driving while intoxicated, stopped suddenly out of annoyance at another vehicle following closely behind.
Both drivers got out and Tipoki confronted the other man as to why he had his lights on full beam. The other man denied it. Tipoki grabbed him by his jacket and shoved him before leaving the scene on foot. A police dog handler located him.
Judge Cathcart noted Tipoki initially denied both sets of offences. He repeatedly told a detective who interviewed him after the party that he was 100 percent sure he never punched the victim.
Spoken to about the traffic incident, he initially denied being the driver.
Counsel Tiana Epati sought supervision coupled with community work and an emotional harm payment to the victim, $1000, which Tipoki had the means to pay immediately, she said.
Although a pre-sentence report recommended home detention, the combination sentence she suggested was more appropriate and would have a more significant impact on Tipoki and the community. There was much Tipoki could offer the community, she said.
After mitigating factors were applied – and there were a "constellation" of them – any term of home detention would be so diminutive as to be far less significant than the sentence she proposed, Ms Epati said.
Furthermore, home detention could not be coupled with community work or an emotional harm payment.
Judge Cathcart said while Ms Epati's submissions had given him cause for thought, he did not accept two months home detention was diminutive. The sentence must be one that upheld the deterrence and denunciation principals required for the gravity of the offending, notwithstanding the enormous number of mitigating factors.
The sentence would be deferred until December 1. Tipoki would serve it in Wellington, where he lives. There would be six months standard release conditions but no special conditions.
The judge imposed a six-month disqualification for the driving charge.
He arrived at the end sentence after setting a starting point for all the offending of 11 months. He applied discounts totalling six months for Tipoki's previous clean record, good character and remorse, then a full 25 percent discount for his guilty pleas.
A letter Tipoki wrote to the court was eloquent. Tipoki had not tried to shift the blame.
His chances of rehabilitation were good. He sought anger management counselling and joined Alcoholics Anonymous immediately after the April incident. He had already attended 12 AA meetings.
The consequences of the convictions had impacted on him. He had lost his roles with Te Runanga Te Ngati O Porou, including work he was doing to help establish Paikea Sports Academy.
- Gisborne Herald