Police are hunting for a dangerous escaped prisoner with gang connections who slipped out of a court cell in Whakatane.
Mana Justin Tangitutu, 27, was sentenced to four months prison for domestic violence at Whakatane District Court yesterday.
He was then put in a court cell by police officers on prison escort duty.
While the officers dealt with another prisoner, Tangitutu escaped from the cell and also managed to leave the court building.
The escape was discovered a few minutes later, at around 5.15pm.
Cordons were put in place around Whakatane till 7pm.
The victim of Tangitutu's assault was also contacted immediately and arrangements made to ensure her safety.
"There will be a full investigation into how Mr Tangitutu was able to leave the cell and court building and a review of court escort processes, but our priority at this stage is locating him.
"I appeal to anyone who sees him or knows of his location to contact us immediately. It is of course possible that he will seek refuge with family or friends and I need to make it clear that anyone found to be assisting him in evading Police could also face prosecution," Bay of Plenty Police Area Commander, Inspector Sandra Venables said.
Tangitutu is described as a male Maori, approximately 180cms tall.
He has gang links and a distinctive full facial tattoo with the word 'Mongrel' above his upper lip.
Tangitutu has links to the Gisborne area, Whakatane, Tauranga and the North Shore.
Tangitutu is known to carry weapons, and should not be approached.
Anyone with information should contact the Police or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.
- © Fairfax NZ News