Tragedy behind homeless man's death in custody
A CORONIAL Inquiry has revealed the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of a New Zealand man living on the streets of Surfers Paradise who was Tasered by police as he stabbed himself at least 57 times.
Elliot Arapita Haimona, 23, died at Gold Coast University Hospital on January 28, 2015, of self-inflicted stab wounds sustained before he was Tasered by police and detained on January 27.
His death was one of 31 Queensland deaths in custody or in the course of police operation (and only such incident on the Gold Coast) referred to the State Coroner for investigation in 2016-17.
The Coroner's Court of Queensland Annual Report 2016-17, tabled in State Parliament, reveals an inquest into Mr Haimona's death in January, 2017, found he died as a result of his own actions, by way of inflicting a large number of stab wounds to his neck, face and other parts of his body.
Born in Whakatane, New Zealand, in 1991, Mr Haimona arrived in Australia in 2009 after the apparent suicide of his younger sister and had been living on the streets of Surfers Paradise for two years before his death.
The inquest was told Mr Haimona, who had no known history of mental illness or psychosis, had been drinking and smoking marijuana with a friend at the Surfers Paradise Motor Inn on January 27, 2015, when he began stabbing himself in the head and neck with a steak knife after he was asked to leave shortly before midnight.
In a report outlining his findings, State Coroner Terry Ryan said a first response crew arrived on the scene at 12.03am shortly followed by QAS at 12.08am.
"The officers entered the unit and saw Mr Haimona sitting upright at the end of the bed, holding a knife. The officers made a threat assessment; the senior officer drew his Taser, and the other officer, unclipped his firearm," Mr Ryan said.
"The officers repeatedly called out to Mr Haimona to drop the knife, however Mr Haimona has resumed stabbing himself in the neck. The officer deployed his Taser which has caused Mr Haimona to drop the knife.
"As the officers proceeded to handcuff Mr Haimona he regained movement and began to move toward the knife.
"A second Taser activation incapacitated Mr Haimona allowing him to be restrained and first aid commenced. QAS commenced treatment and he was transferred to the Gold Coast University Hospital where he was pronounced deceased at 0.15am on 28 January 2015."
Body worn camera footage of the incident was examined as part of a QPS Ethical Standards Command (ESC) investigation into the death.
A full internal autopsy by forensic pathologist Dr Dianne Little revealed the presence of a large number of stab wounds to Mr Haimona's head, neck and legs.
"There were at least 57 stab wounds to the neck that would have resulted in significant blood loss. The cause of death was confirmed as being from stab wounds to the neck," Mr Ryan found.
The autopsy report noted red marks on Mr Haimona's wrists consistent with the use of
handcuffs and a Taser barb embedded in the front of the right shoulder.
The State Coroner accepted in his findings that the actions and decisions made by the attending police officers in the immediate lead up to Mr Haimona's death were appropriate and timely.
He found Mr Haimona only stopped stabbing himself after he was tasered and physically restrained.
"The injuries he had suffered by this time were such that he could not be saved, despite the prompt arrival of paramedics," Mr Ryan found.
He accepted the use of force option of the Taser was an appropriate choice and found Mr Haimona's death could not have reasonably been prevented by the attending officers.
"In this case I have found that there are no grounds for criticism of the police officers involved," Mr Ryan found.
"They responded professionally, and in accordance with their training in relation to appropriate use of force, in a highly charged situation involving a man with a weapon that could have potentially been used upon them."
The State Coroner was satisfied that the investigation conducted into the death by the ESC was appropriate, thorough, and covered all relevant areas of investigation.
It was accepted that the protocols established to investigate deaths in custody in accordance with the Coroners Act 2003, and Queensland Police Operational Procedures Manual were complied with. The State Coroner made no recommendations.