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Mana Whanonga Pirihimana Motuhake

Man attempts suicide in custody for a second time

On 31 January 2018, Police arrested Mr X and took him to the Wellington District Custody Unit. Custody staff evaluated him as 'not in need of specific care', and placed him in a non-monitored cell.

Thirty minutes later, Mr X attempted suicide by wrapping his sweatshirt around his neck. Mr X was taken to hospital and made a full recovery.

Police notified the Authority and investigated the incident. Mr X had attempted to commit suicide in a similar manner while in Police custody in May 2016. However, Police found that custody staff had not placed a suicide alert on the Police database following this incident. Consequently this information was not prominently available to the custody staff evaluating Mr X in January 2018. Had it been, it is likely Mr X would have been placed in a suicide gown and frequently monitored while in custody.

The failure to record the suicide alert was attributed to the fact that the officer in charge of the custody unit at the time was an acting rather than a substantive (permanent) sergeant. As a result, in February 2018, Police directed that all officers acting in a custodial sergeant role must be substantive sergeants.

The Authority actively oversaw the Police investigation, and requested that the outcome be amended to reflect the failures that occurred in May 2016.

While accepting it was not required practice at the time, the Authority also noted that custody staff could have found information about Mr X's suicidal tendencies by checking previous custodial evaluations in the Police database when making their assessment.

The issue of checking past evaluations during prisoner processing will be further considered by the Authority as part of its Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) work.*

*The Authority is responsible for monitoring places of Police detention.

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