01 July 2011
The death in custody of a Whakatane man in December 2008 was marked by omissions and failures by Police officers and Police management and amounted to a breach of the Police duty of care.
The Independent Police Conduct Authority has released the report into the death of Francisco Javier de Larratea Soler, who died in Police cells after taking methadone, alcohol, and an anti-insomnia drug. Mr de Larratea Soler was a 43-year old Spanish national whose ex-partner and two children lived in the South Island. He had been taken into custody on the morning of his death in order to sober up, after he was found lying on the footpath in a confused and intoxicated state.
The Authority has found that Police were justified in taking Mr de Larratea Soler into custody for his own protection. However Police did not comply with their own policies when assessing the risks to his health and wellbeing while in custody and the risk evaluation process itself was also flawed and inadequate. Police did not comply with their own policies in relation to the mandatory checks required of Mr de Larratea Soler, and did not enter his cell during the seven and a half hours he was in custody. At a supervisory and management level, Police failed to allocate resources so as to provide fulltime oversight of the watchhouse and cells at the Whakatane Police station.
Since Mr de Larratea Soler’s death, Police have taken remedial action in relation to the Whakatane cell block and training and policies for the care of intoxicated prisoners who are physically unable to look after themselves.
The Authority has found that while Mr de Larratea Soler’s death may have been inevitable, its occurrence in Police custody was avoidable. Police had a duty of care towards him which was not fulfilled. Pursuant to the Independent Police Conduct Authority Act 1988, the Authority has formed the opinion that the omissions and failures by Police were unjustified and undesirable.
The Authority accepts that Police have taken appropriate remedial action to address the failings in Mr de Larratea Soler’s case and as such it makes no recommendations in regard to criminal or disciplinary proceedings against the Police officers. However it has made three recommendations in respect of policy and training for the care of persons in Police custody.