Source: New Zealand Police (District News)
Police acknowledge the findings of an Independent Police Conduct Authority report into the death of Alo Ngata in July 2018.
Police were called to a residential street in central Auckland where Alo Ngata had just violently assaulted an elderly man, who was unknown to him, in an unprovoked attack. The victim required weeks of hospitalisation suffering significant injuries which he continues to recover from some two years after the incident.
Police acknowledge the impact on the Ngata family with the loss of a much loved family member. The result of that day’s events were a tragic outcome for all parties involved.
When Police arrived on the street, Mr Ngata was highly agitated and hostile towards the attending staff and violently resisted arrest. We now know he was also on methamphetamine. It required multiple tactical options to be deployed before Mr Ngata could be restrained to ensure the safety of the man being assaulted and the officers themselves.
Following usage of OC spray and taser, staff on scene attempted to provide assistance to Mr Ngata but he continued to resist Police. Once he was restrained, Mr Ngata began spitting at the officers, spitting blood as he did so.
To ensure their safety, police applied a spit hood. Unfortunately the spit hood was not applied correctly and this was not noticed by successive Police staff.
The IPCA’s report found these uses of force were appropriate, necessary and proportionate to the level of resistance Mr Ngata was displaying.
It also found that the application of a spit hood was appropriate while Mr Ngata was being restrained and it was also reasonable to keep Mr Ngata lying prone during the short drive to the Auckland District Custody Unit.
Once at the Custody Unit he was taken into a cell and considerable time was spent removing the taser probes. Police staff were aware of the potential for positional asphyxia and were moving Mr Ngata from side to side to ensure he did not spend all of that time lying on his stomach. However, this was a very difficult process to achieve.
Police note the IPCA’s view that Mr Ngata was not resisting police at this time, however this is not the view of the attending police who assessed Mr Ngata’s movements as resisting their efforts.
Having not realised that the spit hood was incorrectly applied, the Police employees involved determined that it was appropriate to leave the spit hood on Mr Ngata as a means of distracting Mr Ngata as they released and him and executed a tactical withdrawal from the cell.
Shortly after Police noticed that he had not removed the spit hood. Police cautiously checked on him and found that he was unresponsive. As soon as Police realised this, they provided first aid and called an ambulance, but sadly Mr Ngata passed away days later at Auckland City Hospital.
Police acknowledge the report’s findings around Mr Ngata’s time in custody.
Superintendent Karyn Malthus, Auckland City District Commander, says this was an extremely difficult incident for attending police officers and custody staff who were dealing with an unpredictable offender.
“These were extraordinary circumstances in which custody unit staff found themselves receiving a detainee who had been highly agitated and had only recently been violently resisting Police.” Given the circumstances of Mr Ngata’s arrest it was reasonable that custody staff kept their own safety in mind.
Police acknowledge the IPCA’s concern about the role of the custody in this situation and accept that the supervisor should have focused attention on elements such as the spit hood and constant monitoring, however upon realising that Mr Ngata was in medical distress police acted appropriately.
Following this incident Police launched its own critical incident investigation which examined criminal culpability.
It was determined after consideration of expert evidence and independent legal advice that legal causation for Mr Ngata’s death was not established and on that basis no person was criminally culpable for Mr Ngata’s death.
Police emphasise the fact the pathologist was unable to determine whether the use of a spit-hood in this case had any causal effect on Mr Ngata’s death. In this context ‘causal effect’ means causation in the context of assessment of any criminal culpability.
The IPCA examined the findings of this critical incident investigation as part of its wider independent review. The report also noted the pathologist’s finding that removing the spit hood might not have changed the outcome.
“The conduct of the employees involved in the incident was assessed. It was considered that there was no behaviour contrary to Police’s code of conduct that required an employment investigation.
“I acknowledge that the death of Mr Ngata was a tragic event. I would also like to acknowledge the extreme danger to all staff involved in this incident. Their intent was to bring a violent offender under control and to ensure the safety of our community, they were all working in extremely difficult circumstances.
“Police take any review into its actions seriously and in this case undertook a thorough review of the circumstances of this incident.
“Police is an organisation that is committed to on-going learning and we have noted a number of lessons learned around the handling of highly agitated people in custody,” says Superintendent Malthus.
There is a national review into the custody and transport of prisoners currently underway and this matter will form part of that wider review.
It is important to note that Mr Ngata’s death remains subject of active Coronial proceedings and for this reason Police are constrained from commenting further until all proceedings in this matter have been completed.
Jarred Williamson/NZ Police