More than 1000 people crammed into a South Auckland church today to farewell Otahuhu police officer Kali Fungavaka, who died in Tonga last week.
At least 200 mourners at the Latter Day Saints Stake Centre in Otara were police, whose blue uniforms mixed among scores of people wearing traditional Tongan ta'ovala (a mat wrapped around the waist).
Friends have remembered him as "one of the greatest" and a man who was willing to put himself in harm's way to protect others.
Fungavaka had been in Tonga for his grandfather's funeral. On the evening of August 17 he was arrested outside a Nuku'alofa bar.
He was allegedly assaulted by two Tongan constables before he was taken to police cells, where another man is alleged to have also assaulted him. He was taken to Vaiola Hospital and died a week later.
Tongan Police Commissioner Grant O'Fee said today the two police officers who allegedly assaulted Fungavaka before his death have had their charges upgraded from assault to manslaughter.
A third man, Semisi Kalisitiane Manu, who had initially been charged with murder, has had his charge downgraded to manslaughter.
When the trio appear before a Nuku'alofa magistrate on Monday they will also all face charges of causing grievous bodily harm.
New Zealand deputy commissioner Viv Rickard and police top brass were among those who paid their respects to Fungavaka today and many also attended a private ceremony last night.
Leaders of the Mormon church from as far away as Australia were at the funeral, as were MPs Su'a William Sio and Sam Lotu-Iiga.
After a stirring rendition of Abide with me, an aunty and uncle paid tribute to their nephew in Tongan, before members of the church spoke. One man, who had been on a two-year mission to Papua New Guinea with Fungavaka 18 years ago, called him "one of the greatest".
"He had a God-like attribute, something I loved and was hoping I could be like," he said.
"He was someone willing to help anyone and he would also be willing to put himself in harm's way to protect someone else."
They said Fungavaka could form a relationship with a stranger "in five minutes" and there were also humorous tales of his qualities as a peace-maker when confronted by angry locals in Papua New Guinea.
After the service, a massive crowd gathered outside the church - many wearing T-shirts emblazoned with Fungavaka's face - as a lone police piper played and the coffin was loaded into the hearse.
- Auckland Now
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