Coroner rejects claims of Dixon coverup
Samurai sword killer Antonie Dixon's death in jail had no "sinister connotations" as alleged by his family, the coroner says.
An inquest into Dixon's 2009 death at Auckland Prison at Paremoremo wrapped up yesterday, with coroner Garry Evans saying he believed the circumstances had been "adequately explored in an open and transparent manner".
Dixon's family had earlier said they believed there was a "coverup" by the Corrections Department due to the length of time the case took to get to inquest.
During the hearing, their representatives repeatedly asked for evidence that Dixon had strangled himself and caused his own injuries as alleged by police.
Coroner Evans said he hoped those beliefs had been put right. In addressing the allegations he had held the inquest in public, despite the usual prohibition on reporting the methods of suicide, and made CCTV footage of Dixon available.
Dixon died in maximum security Auckland Prison in 2009, a day before he was to be re-sentenced for a drug-fuelled crime spree where he maimed two women with a samurai sword, murdered James Te Aute and held another man hostage.
Police say Dixon strangled himself with a piece of anti-suicide bedding after being transferred from Mt Eden to an at-risk cell in Paremoremo due to his deterioraing mental health.
Dixon had obscured the camera in the room using wet toilet paper.
A psychiatrist believed he should have been continuously monitored, but instead he was checked every 15 minutes. Corrections has admitted he should have been in a mental health facility, but there were no free beds.
The inquest raised questions about the balance between staff safety and prisoners' lives, after the court heard that the guards who stood and watched Antonie Dixon die could have entered his cell earlier but instead chose to "err on the side of caution".
Dixon was notorious in the prison system as a serious danger who was known to be violent and strong, with martial arts skills, qualifying him for a maximum safety classification meaning four guards were needed before they could enter his room.
As a result, two guards chose to watch and wait for more than three minutes while Dixon lay on the floor dying with a cord around his neck.
Mr Evans acknowledged Dixon as a danger but asked "where the balance lay" in choosing guard safety over a person's life. He noted that, despite Dixon's security status, there were provisions that could overrule the safety measures for a "critical incident".
Prison services acting general manager Jeanette Burns said the guards erred on the side of caution because they were taught safety was paramount at the prison.
Mr Evans asked if instead guards should "err on the side of life".
Paremoremo's at-risk unit manager, Brian Singh, said many prisoners would fake falling over, but then come to and "frighten the hell" out of nurses.
"Dixon had a history. He would hide behind cell grilles . . . to jump out and frighten other officers or staff."
Other prisoners were scared of him, Mr Singh said.
Mt Eden's acting prison manager in 2009, Grace Smit, said Dixon's death at Paremoremo came at the end of a difficult fortnight in which he pulled a homemade knife on his lawyer, Barry Hart, and set off a fire alarm.
He also tried to strangle himself and was bashing his head against the walls.
His behaviour was so erratic that prison guards kept him - against all protocols - naked, in waist restraints for more than 30 hours while he was at Mt Eden prison.
Ms Smit said a senior Corrections officer made the decision during the weekend to put Dixon in the restraints with the approval of the custodial services manager. Although her consent was not sought, Ms Smit later agreed with the decision.
"I never got the sense from anyone involved in any of the decision-making that they were trying to be punitive or malicious or had anything against Dixon," she said. "The [Corrections officer] had Dixon's best interests at heart."
However, spending 30 hours in waist restraints was "not good".
Following investigations, several staff were formally cautioned, Ms Smit said.
The hearing has finished, with the coroner reserving his decision.
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