Questions remain over police cell death

ROB KIDD
Last updated 16:03 24/02/2014
Fairfax NZ

Counties-Manukau police Superintendent John Tims discusses the investigation to find out how a man died in custody.

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Mystery surrounds how an aggressive south Auckland man died in police cells yesterday.

Counties Manukau police Superintendent John Tims said at a press conference this afternoon that an autopsy had been completed yesterday afternoon, but toxicology lab results would take a couple of weeks.

The man's name would not be released because friends and family were still being contacted overseas.

Tims confirmed police took the 20-year-old man into custody about 1am yesterday after they were called to a disturbance at a house in Manurewa.

The man was "aggressive, violent and intoxicated". Family members had struggled to restrain him, Tims said.

He was arrested for breaching the peace and taken in for detoxification.

Still acting aggressively while in custody, he was put in a monitored cell alone.

"A doctor was called to view him but because of his violent and aggressive nature the doctor could not see him," Tims said.

A criminal investigation and an internal investigation are under way. The incident has been referred to the Independent Police Conduct Authority and the coroner.

"Yesterday is a tragedy for everyone," Tims said.

"It's a difficult time for the family and the police staff involved and we're supporting the family in every way as possibly can."

Tims would not elaborate on how heavy handed police had been with the man other than to say he had been "restrained".

No Taser was used, he said.

Twenty-seven people died in police custody between 2000 and 2010.

An IPCA review of the deaths, released in 2012, found gaps in police training.

These included knowing safe restraint procedures to assessing the medical risk of prisoners. It also expressed the need for specialty detox centres or temporary shelters where medical care was at hand.

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