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Auckland police didn't properly care for man who lay unresponsive in cell, watchdog finds

A drunk man who had been smashing his head against a wall was not properly cared for while in police custody in Auckland, the Independent Police Conduct Authority says.

Prisoner in jail cell. Source: 1 NEWS

On September 15, 2019, police were called to a Manurewa property where the man was shouting, swearing and possibly assaulting his partner.

When officers arrived, the man was asleep and snoring loudly on the driveway.

However, he became aggressive and uncooperative when woken, and may have been using drugs.

Police put the man in handcuffs, but he then attempted to bang his head on a fence, then hit his head on the concrete driveway.

The Authority said officers should have then taken him directly to hospital, but they instead took him into custody where he was left in a cell in the prisoner transport truck for 44 minutes while a decision was made whether to receive him into the custody unit or take him to hospital.

In its findings, the Authority said this was "unacceptable" treatment.

However, while police said officers attempted to call for an ambulance, they were told it was going to take some time to arrive so the decision was made to put him in a custody unit cell.

But the Authority said while in the cell, the man was also not put in a recovery position and it it took over an hour for the man to be seen by a police doctor.

"The doctor said the man needed to go to hospital, however, he lay in an unresponsive state in the cell for a further 56 minutes before being taken. This delay was unreasonable," the Authority said.

"Police policy says that if a person in their care is only partially responsive, police should treat it as a medical emergency and the person should be taken to hospital. Police did not do this and failed in their duty of care," Authority chair Judge Colin Doherty added.

The man was eventually taken to hospital for the night and released the next day.

In a statement today, Counties Manukau District Commander Superintendent Jill Rogers said police accepted the standard of care given to the man was not good enough.

"While the staff were all working with good intent, there was definitely areas for improvement relating to this incident," she said.

"Police custody units can be very challenging for our staff and the work can be fast moving and very complicated. Overall, our staff do an excellent job of providing care to those who we come across but there are situations such as this one where it’s important that we learn from where we went wrong."

Following the incident, police now have a Senior Sergeant based in the Counties Manukau District Custody Unit at all times.

As well, prisoner escort vans have been replaced with custom-built vans which have individual cells and live feed CCTV included where those in custody are constantly monitored.