Cops failed to seek medical care for man who died in custody

Source: 1News

Hāwera police failed to seek medical attention for Allen Ball who died in custody in 2019, according to the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

Allen Ball.

In June this year three police officers were found not guilty of manslaughter by a jury.

Sandra Shaw, Corey Waite and Craig Longworth had been accused of being grossly negligent in their duty of care to Ball.

However, the IPCA on Thursday released its findings into the 1 June, 2019 death, where Ball was placed in a cell while unresponsive.

His cause of death was found to be extremely high levels of codeine and tramadol and alcohol toxicity.

But the IPCA noted an expert in forensic toxicology saying that if medical attention had been given sooner, it is very likely Ball would not have died.

He was taken into custody after drinking heavily, allegedly assaulting his partner and threatening to harm himself.

Officers arrested Ball, placed him in a patrol car, and took him to Hāwera Police Station - he appeared to fall asleep during the journey.

Arriving at the station just before midnight on May 31, officers could not wake him. 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 on June 1, an officer found Ball's physical condition had deteriorated. Officers performed CPR and called an ambulance but he was pronounced dead a short time later.

While the officers involved were found not guilty of manslaughter, following its own investigation, the IPCA said the officers should have given more consideration to Ball's self-harm threat given his rapid decline into unresponsiveness.

In a statement, police said Ball had been drinking heavily but repeatedly told police he had not taken any other substances.

But the authority also said officers failed to turn their minds to the possibility that he had taken anything other than alcohol.

Instead, the authority said police should have taken the unresponsive Ball directly to hospital rather than into the police station.

As well, it was found that while processing 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 Ball, and another directed them to take him to hospital.

In the cell, the authority said officers should have been constantly monitoring Ball.

"Even under a lesser monitoring regime, they failed to conduct some required checks and the checks were not thorough enough," the authority noted.

"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 said police needed to continue to develop training in the area of detaining people in custody units, particularly in locations where there are no dedicated custody officers.

Police have since made changes to improve the safety of those in custody.

"Every year across the country Police take thousands of people into custody and they are more often than not held without incident. Unfortunately, that was not the case with Mr Ball," Assistant Commissioner Tusha Penny said.

"The management of people in our care is something we take very seriously – they are often vulnerable and require a high level of monitoring and support.

"It's vital we learn from this tragedy and do everything we can to help prevent further loss of life."

In her statement, Penny recognised the loss Ball's family and friends have suffered.

"Ultimately, officers are responsible for the decisions they make about the people in their care," the Independent Police Conduct Authority chairman Judge Colin Doherty said.

"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."