4 Mar 2014

Custody deaths 'not growing issue'

2:53 pm on 4 March 2014

Police Minister Anne Tolley says deaths in police custody aren't an issue but she feels for the family of a South Auckland man who died in a police cell.

Sentry Taitoko died on 16 February after spending several hours in a cell at the Manukau police station, where he was taken to sober up.

The lawyer for his family, Peter Williams, says the number of deaths in custody is mounting, with up to 30 in the past 10 years.

Mrs Tolley will not comment on the case, saying it's an operational matter and she hasn't been briefed on it.

However, she insists deaths in custody are not a growing issue.

Mrs Tolley says there are huge protocols in place around the issue, which the Independent Police Conduct Authority has been looking at for some time.

"There's a whole lot of protections - look it's always regrettable but there are circumstances sometimes beyond anyone's control."

Police say they can't comment further on the case because of continuing investigations.

Assured of care - brother

Mr Naitoko's brother said officers told him they would take care of his brother when they took him into custody.

Johnathan Taitoko said the 20-year-old was extremely drunk, but he had him under control when police turned up in response to a call from neighbours.

He said police told him they would keep a constant eye on his brother while he was at the station, and he wants an explanation. "I told them, just have somebody there with him, at all times - as much help as he could get. They said yes, yep, we will."

Mr Taitoko said he saw one officer put his knee on Sentry Taitoko's neck while police were restraining him.

He said his brother would still be alive if police hadn't taken him away and the family wants to know what happened, and why.

"Time frame for missing hours and all that. It just doesn't add up. We know ... there's more to this."

Family in 'shock'

Mr Williams says the family is in shock and mourning.

He told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme Mr Taitoko was a smallish man who was not aggressive.

"Why he was taken away against the wishes of the family. Why - after all he was in his own home and I'm sure that if he hadn't been taken away he would still be alive today and what was the legal justification for taking him away."

He said Mr Taitoko had no known medical problems.

He said deaths in custody are mounting, with up to 30 in the past 10 years.