Manslaughter probe into Kiwi cop's death

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 12:24 24/08/2012
DANIEL GALVIN/ Fairfax NZ

Police talk about Kali Fungavaka's death and his work with the New Zealand police.

Kali Fungavaka
Fairfax NZ
VICTIM: Kali Fungavaka.

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Three men, two of the them police officers, have appeared before a Tongan magistrate this morning on charges linked to the death of New Zealand police constable Kali Fungavaka.

Fungavaka died overnight, six days after he was assaulted in a police cell in Nuku'alofa.

Tonga's assistant police commissioner Viliami 'Unga Fa'aoa told Fairfax Media the three men had appeared on charges of grievous bodily harm and were remanded in custody to appear again on Monday.

"The matter is before the court now, it is still a grievous bodily harm, but we are looking to elevate the charges now that the man has died."

He said it was likely the civilian, Kalisitiane Manu, would be charged with manslaughter or murder. The policemen were likely to face the assault charges.

Tonga has a mandatory death sentence for murder.

Fa'aoa said Tonga's prime minister Lord Tu'ivakano had this morning called on Fungavaka's widow Audra Watts.

"He called and paid his respects, shocking situation like this, you have to offer your sympathies to the family," Fa'aoa said.

"One of the wishes of the widow is for her husband to come to New Zealand as soon as possible."

There are three flights later today, but he said it was likely that the body would be returned to Auckland tomorrow.

Fungavaka, who holds the Bravery Medal, had been in Tonga for his grandfather's funeral.

On Friday night he went to a bar and was later arrested by police for drunkenness.

He was then assaulted, allegedly by two police officers and then by another man in the police cells.

He plunged into a coma and was taken to Viola Hospital and put on life support.

Yesterday, with Watts and four children at his bedside, he died.

FAMILY MOURNS

"This is a date I will never forget, but will never want to remember, 23 Aug 2012 at 1830 Kali passed peacefully at the Viola Hospital, Tonga," Watts said on her Facebook page.

"Thank you all again for your prayers, support and encouragement.

"Kali fought long enough for the children to see him, hug him and tell him how much they love him. Thank you to the support group we had here in Tonga and to the staff at the Viola Hospital," she said.

"Goodbye my darling husband, best buddy, soulmate, loving dad, stepdad to my son, and father to our baby dog Sarge."

His body remains at the hospital until a post mortem to determine cause of death.

Assistant commissioner Fa'aoa said a civilian, Kalisitiane Manu, who was also arrested for drunkenness in a public place last Friday, had been charged with grievous bodily harm of Fungavaka and will appear in the Magistrate's Court next Monday.

He told Matangi Tonga news site that two Tongan police constables remain in custody for assault that occurred before Fungavaka was locked up.

"Now that the circumstances have changed since the victim died we will look at other potential charges which are manslaughter by negligence or murder," he said.

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"It depends on the evidence but with one of the accused they will consider an appropriate change from grievous bodily harm to either manslaughter or murder."

When asked if the police officers would also be investigated for murder, Fa'aoa said, "it depends on the evidence, but I don't believe so".

He said that it was very unfortunate that this has happened.

"Whoever did this, no matter who they are, will be prosecuted the same as any other person, because everyone has to answer to the law," he said.

Tongan authorities have been reluctant in recent years to lay full murder charges against anybody as the kingdom has a mandatory death sentence.

Tongan police have long had a reputation for brutality, particularly towards prisoners.

Since the 2006 Nuku'alofa riots, which saw eight people killed, the Tongan police have been headed by New Zealanders.

The current commissioner, Grant O'Fee, has been in the Solomon Islands for a police commissioner's conference during this week's death.

Former commissioner Chris Kelley of Dunedin told Radio New Zealand "that violence and offending of that nature was prevalent".

He said there were a number of incidents of "police officers taking the law into their own hands" while he served from 2007 to 2011.

"I dealt with 270 complaints received and 40 of those were related to violence, violence by police officers, and I put a number of those people before the court," he said.

"I took a hard line; it goes to the core of public confidence."

Kelley said there was a real cause for concern around Fungavaka's death.

"There is an expectation, a duty of care, that people taken into custody for whatever reason will receive care and protection, they will be safe from other prisoners, safe from themselves in case of self harm and safe from any criminal type actions from people responsible for their custody."

He said alcohol abuse was a major concern in Tonga.

New Zealand Deputy Commissioner Mike Bush said Fungavaka had been an outstanding police officer.

"Kali's colleagues describe him as quiet and unassuming, very humble and very passionate about policing and making a difference, especially in the Polynesian community," Bush said.

"He was always one of those staff members who could be relied upon when the going got tough. He was a valued member of the police family."

Fungavaka received a Bravery Medal for his actions in August 2003 as he tried to save a woman set alight by her ex-boyfriend at an Otahuhu petrol station.

His actions in dousing the fire, first by soaking his jumper in water and applying it to her burning body, and then grabbing a fire extinguisher, were not enough to save the woman, but did inspire his dream to join the police.

Friends yesterday described him as a "family man with four beautiful kids, who had just got married".

He was a shinning example for the community he worked in, said David Palahame.

Another friend, Abinadi Lameko, said Fungavaka was a placid character who would not have invited trouble.

"Kali, he's real humble," Lameko said.

"He doesn't fight at all. I know he drinks but he's not a violent drinker, he's a laid-back guy."

- Stuff

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