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Death in custody of Dwayne Walters

17 March 2016

In a report released today, the Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that the Papakura Court cells fell well short of accepted minimum standards and that their condition was a contributing factor in the death of a detainee, Dwayne Walters.

In the early hours of Monday, 4 May 2015 Police arrested Mr Walters at his mother’s house for breach of bail conditions. He was taken to Counties Manukau Police Station. Despite the fact that Mr Walters had reportedly threatened suicide and been discovered in possession of a significant quantity of unknown pills, no concerns regarding his welfare were communicated or recorded by any Police officer at the station.

Mr Walters was transferred to Papakura District Court later on that morning and detained in the cells until his appearance in Court after lunch. He was then remanded in custody and returned to the cells awaiting transfer to Mt Eden Correctional Facility. While in the Court cells, the Police officer in charge made routine checks on his welfare.

Just before 4pm that day the officer went to remove Mr Walters from the cells for transport. He found Mr Walters with an item of clothing tied tightly around his neck and secured to a tap within the cell. First aid was administered. However, Mr Walters was pronounced dead at 4.05pm.

“The Authority is of the view that a significant contributing factor in Mr Walters’ death was the poor condition of the Court cell in which he was detained”, said the Chair of the Authority, Judge Sir David Carruthers. “In particular, there were a number of fixtures in the cell that could be easily adapted by detainees for the purpose of strangulation or to otherwise inflict injury.”

“The cell should not have been maintained in a way that presented this level of risk to occupants”.

The Authority has discovered that a large number of other Court cells throughout the country have similar deficiencies. It has brought its concerns about cell conditions to the attention of the Ministry of Justice. As a result, a systematic review of all court cells has been completed and a national programme of work is being developed to remedy identified deficiencies and ensure that all Court cells are constructed and maintained to the required standard. Significant improvements have also been made to the Papakura Court cells.

“The Authority is satisfied that in response to its investigations, and the concerns expressed, prompt action has been taken by the Ministry. The Authority anticipates it will be kept abreast of progress and completion of the work programme,” Sir David said.

The Authority has concluded that Police generally acted appropriately and provided an acceptable level of care given what they knew about Mr Walters.

Although some of the officers who dealt with Mr Walters were aware that he had threatened self-harm, they believed that the threat was not genuine and did not need to be recorded on the Police computer system or communicated to custody staff at Counties Manukau Police Station.

Nevertheless, the Authority has found that:

  • It would have been desirable for his suicide threat to have been formally notified on the Police system when it first became known;
  • the officer who arrested Mr Walters should have been aware that he was reported to have threatened suicide and communicated this to custody staff; and
  • since Mr Walters had been discovered in possession of a significant quantity of unknown pills, the custody staff should have completed a Prisoner Management Assessment Form.

The Authority has concluded that none of these shortcomings amounted to misconduct or neglect of duty.

The Authority has recommended that the Police adopt a policy of requiring that all reports of suicide threats be recorded on the Police computer system. This record should then be available to all other staff who may be dealing with that person in future.

Note: The Authority has undertaken this investigation both in its role as a Police oversight body, and in fulfilment of its function as the body responsible under the Crimes of Torture Act 1989 for monitoring the management of all detainees in the custody of the Police. This includes the construction and condition of the cells themselves. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for the construction and maintenance of court cells, but the Police have responsibility for the custody and care of those detained in them.

Public Report

Death in custody of Dwayne Walters (PDF 648 KB)
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