The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that, on 31 May 2019, Hāwera Police officers failed to seek medical attention for Mr Ball, who died in a Police cell after being placed there while unresponsive. Mr Ball’s cause of death was found to be extremely high levels of codeine and tramadol, and alcohol toxicity. An expert in forensic toxicology says that if medical attention had been given sooner, it is very likely Mr Ball would not have died.
Mr Ball, who had been drinking heavily, allegedly assaulted his partner and threatened to harm himself before leaving the house. Police found him a short time later. An officer repeatedly asked him if he had consumed any drug other than alcohol; he denied that he had. Mr Ball’s partner told Police she did not believe his self-harm threat was serious.
Officers arrested Mr Ball, placed him in a patrol car, and took him to Hāwera Police Station. During the short journey, Mr Ball appeared to fall asleep while being spoken to. Upon arrival at the Police station, at 11.58pm, officers could not arouse him and from then on he remained unresponsive. Six people carried him into the station on a blanket and placed him in the recovery position on a cell floor. At about 2.30am, an officer found Mr Ball’s physical condition had deteriorated. Officers performed CPR and called an ambulance; however, Mr Ball was pronounced dead a short time later.
Police investigated and charged Officers A, C and E with manslaughter. They were found not guilty by a jury in June 2021.
The Authority carried out its own independent investigation.
Throughout the incident, all the officers involved considered Mr Ball to be merely intoxicated and failed to turn their minds to the possibility that he had taken anything other than alcohol. They should have given more consideration to Mr Ball’s self-harm threat given his rapid decline into unresponsiveness.
Officers should have taken Mr Ball directly to hospital rather than into the Police station when he became unresponsive. Policy gives clear guidance that detainees who are ‘partially responsive’ or ‘unresponsive’ require medical care.
While processing Mr Ball, officers ignored two pop-up alerts on the Police computer system designed to evaluate the needs of those in Police custody; one prompted them to consider arranging medical care for Mr Ball, and another directed them to take him to hospital.
Once in the cell, officers should have constantly monitored Mr Ball. Even under a lesser monitoring regime, they failed to conduct some required checks and the checks were not thorough enough.
The arresting/processing officer, the acting Field Training Officer, and the supervisor failed to perform their roles adequately and failed Mr Ball, who was dependent on them for his care. Other officers, who were also aware of Mr Ball’s unresponsive condition, also failed to perform the obligation they had to arrange medical care for him.
The Authority found Police need to continue to develop and ensure delivery of appropriate training for officers involved in detaining people in custody units, particularly in locations where there are no dedicated custody officers.
“Ultimately, officers are responsible for the decisions they make about the people in their care. These officers disregarded policy and instructions and failed in their duty to take care of Mr Ball, who was reliant on them to provide him with urgent assistance,“ said Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty.
The Authority completed its investigation into this incident in June 2020 but delayed the release of its public report until the conclusion of the officers’ trial.