The Crown has described the attitude of three Hāwera police officers accused of manslaughter towards a man that died in their care as showing a lack of concern, care and laziness.
The officers, who have name suppression, are accused of being grossly negligent in their duty of care to Allen Ball, who died on the floor of a police cell in the Hāwera police station two years ago on June 1, 2019.
He was arrested a few hours earlier in a highly-intoxicated state.
“When arrested, he immediately became a vulnerable adult," Crown prosecutor Cherie Clarke said in her closing address to the jury in the trial.
“They all knew he had been an aggressor in a family harm accident, how much he had drunk and was unsteady on his feet and that he had threatened to kill himself.
“This made him a very vulnerable adult."
A toxicology report states Ball died of an alcohol, tramadol and codeine overdose.
Ball told one of the police officer’s he had drunk alcohol but said “No” when asked if he had taken anything else.
Clarke argues that the officers failed in their duty of care to Ball so badly they are guilty of manslaughter.
“Your task is to apply a reasonable test of what a police officer would have done in the circumstances they were in,” she told the jury.
“When Ball did not wake and respond to pain techniques, the reasonable police officer would have known this was a medical emergency.”
Instead, after Ball was dragged into a police cell, the most senior of the accused officers was heard saying “Good luck, you’ve done the hard work” to the other officers, Clarke told the jury today.
Clarke argues the officers’ negligence increased as the night went on with poor checks on the state of Mr Ball made and some checks not logged in the police monitoring computer system.
A police directive that popped up as an alert on the monitoring system to take the detainee to hospital, based on information entered about Ball’s condition, was ignored by two of the officers, Clarke argues.
“The Crown says it is wrong of the defence to suggest they’ve never seen pop-up alerts before because they have.”
Clarke referred to previous evidence from emergency medical specialist Dr Paul Quigley saying that the purpose of this alert is to challenge the confirmation bias of officers.
Clarke said it was “interesting” that neither of the officers mentioned the pop-up alerts in their police interviews.
She said one of the officers initially entered Ball as requiring "constant monitoring" into the monitoring system as he knew Ball was unresponsive but then he changed this assessment.
“We might get a little bit crucified that I haven’t put him on constant monitoring because of the level of consciousness … ” one of the accused was heard saying in CCTV footage played in court today.
Clarke said in response, another of the accused officer’s said “the idiot’s f***** wasted …”
Clarke said the three officers accused knew Ball was never alert inside the police station, never responded, was unconscious and never woke up.
She said the defence argument that police are advised not to wake sleeping detainees as this has been reported by the United Nations as a form of torture is not relevant in this situation.
“That only applies to people that are alert,” Clarke said.
Susan Hughes QC, defence lawyer for one of the accused officers, opened her closing address by saying the defendant was an “excellent frontline officer” that was committed to serving their community with honesty and integrity.
Hughes said the officer would have taken Ball to hospital if they thought medical treatment was required.
She said the officers saw Ball as a “sleeping drunk” and weren’t aware of the codeine and tramadol he’d taken.
Hughes said the defendant accepted mistakes had been made but didn’t believe these amounted to a major departure in the police duty of care to people in custody.
She raised that many drunk people sleep deeply and that overweight men can snore.
Hughes questioned how the medical system would cope if an ambulance was called for every sleeping drunk.
She said the officers hadn’t received training in using the computer monitoring system that a police directive for hospitalisation of Ball appeared on that night.
Andrew Laurenson, the defence lawyer for another accused officer, said the officer did not have any responsibility for Ball at any time the night he died.
Laurenson asked the jury if they could be sure that a major departure in the care required in the circumstances had occurred.
He alleged the training the officers had received was, “insufficient for them to be properly able to do what is required.”
He said the officer would have picked up the phone and called an ambulance if he had seen a risk with the condition of Ball.
The lawyer for the third defendant will make their closing arguments tomorrow morning.