15 Jun 2020

Inquest into death of man in police cell resumes

7:56 pm on 15 June 2020

Content warning: This story discusses graphic details of death and self harm.

A coronial inquest into the death of a young man in an Auckland police cell more than six years ago is under way again.

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Sentry Taitoko. Photo: Supplied / Destiny Taitoko

Sentry Taitoko, 21, died in a suicide prevention cell at Counties Manukau Police Station in February 2014.

He was arrested for breaching the peace after a bad trip on LSD, having consumed a cocktail of drugs over a long period of no sleep.

Taitoko was picked up from his brother's house in Manurewa and taken to a suicide prevention cell in the police station.

He died after repeatedly injuring hitting himself against the walls of the cell, where he was being regularly checked by police officers.

An inquiry into his death resumed in the Auckland District Court today after coming to an abrupt halt last October when the Skycity Convention Centre caught fire nearby.

Last year, the coronial inquest heard an officer asked a passing doctor - who cannot be named - for an opinion about Taitoko's state.

The doctor - who has name suppression - advised the young man would be safe in police care if he was monitored regularly.

The doctor told the inquest he was not made aware of the self harm, and if he had known about it he would have advised the young man be taken to hospital.

This afternoon, Taitoko's family lawyer Barry Wilson asked another doctor if it was normal practice to inquire about a person's behaviour before and during their time in custody.

Dr John Bonning - an experienced police medical officer based in Hamilton - told the inquest it depended on the circumstances.

"If the person was pointed out to you and you were asked to give any form of opinion, verbal or otherwise, even with something as minor as, 'do you think this person is okay?' It depends.

"It depends on how long they've been there and what their condition and behaviour had been like up to that point. Of course you would want to know some more detail."

Last year the court heard the doctor who observed Taitoko that night felt reassured the 21-year-old appeared subdued when he saw him.

Today, Dr John Bonning told the court attitudes towards so-called 'corridor consulations' had come a long way since 2014.

"The concept of a casual consultation is something that we would be very careful of. Overall, the safety of persons in custody has been drawn into focus over the years with adverse incidents that have occured on both sides of the Tasman."

Emergency medicine specialist Dr Garry Clearwater later told the inquest quick 'corridor consultations' were commonplace in any emergency department.

"That's in the nature of a busy emergency department; a supervising doctor is often asked in passing for a quick opinion. To spend a lot of time formally assessing every patient would seriously impair my ability to get through the workload."

Dr Clearwater said it was entirely feasible Taitoko could have also died had he been restrained and sedated that night.

'It's a terrible dilemma for clinicians about forcibly restraining a patient to sedate them because it carries risk and it's well-recognised that that's often a trigger point for the death of a patient."

Dr Clearwater said there was a known reluctance to admit people with extreme behaviour with emergency departments because of the enormous strain on resources; some aggressive patients requiring up to ten hospital staff for their care.

Taitoko's whanau have waited more than six years to see his coronial inquest through to the end.

After the SkyCity Convention Centre fire, a nationwide lockdown, and a further three-hour delay this morning to resolve tech issues, the inquest is finally underway again.

It will resume in the Auckland District Court tomorrow morning.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.