No one in the Corrections Department has ever been prosecuted over an ‘unnatural death’ in prison. In what could have been the first case, Detective Senior Sergeant Colin Blackie (right), who conducted the police investigation into the death of Jai Davis, wanted to prosecute prison staff who allowed Davis to die from a drug overdose. Despite a wealth of evidence showing prison managers, officers and nurses all failed in their duty of care, Mr Blackie was taken off the case and no one was prosecuted.
Davis died in Otago prison in February 2011 after smuggling in drugs – internally. At the coroner’s inquest in November last year, Sergeant Blackie blamed dysfunctional relationships within the prison between management, officers and nurses. He made it very clear he thought individual staff at Corrections should have been charged. He told the coroner:
“There were clearly some nurses who either by their own admission or by statements of others, were not affording Mr Davis the care that he should have got… that he could not access of his own accord… (He) should not have died in that prison.”
Taken off the case
Towards the end of his investigation, Mr Blackie went on leave for two months. When he returned, he was taken off the case. He told the inquest:
“I was informed that I shouldn’t have anything to do with this investigation”.
His place was taken by Detective Inspector, Steve McGregor, (left) who up till then had had almost no involvement. Mr McGregor appears to have taken over the job of preparing the police report and recommendations on the Davis case which went to the police prosecutor – who then decided not to charge anyone with anything.
The police could have consulted the Solicitor General for a Crown opinion on the case. They didn’t bother. It seems they didn’t want to prosecute anyone and justified this by claiming the evidence didn’t meet the threshold in the so-called evidential test. In reality there is no evidential test – it seems police simply didn’t want to prosecute because, inadvertently, they also contributed to his death and their own behaviour could have been called into question.
Testimony of Neil Jones-Sexton
Corrections ‘intel’ (from prison phone monitoring) revealed Davis was going to turn himself in to Dunedin police on an outstanding arrest warrant – and smuggle drugs into Otago prison by concealing them in his rectum. This information was passed on to police by Corrections Intelligence Officer, Neil Jones-Sexton – by phone and by email. When the police finally got around to interviewing him two years later, Jones-Sexton told Colin Blackie’s investigating team:
“I felt the information was of such importance that police needed to know immediately and consequently phoned the Dunedin Police… At some stage I spoke to Sergeant Ritchie, Detective Sergeant Hedges, Detective Trevor Thompson and Police Liaison Officer Judy Powell and possibly other Police Intel staff over the relevant time periods.”
On 9 February, at 3.59pm, Jones-Sexton also sent an email disclosing all the relevant details to the head of the Police Intelligence unit in Dunedin, Sergeant Tony Ritchie. Sergeant Ritchie said he knocked off at 2.00pm and never got the email. At the coroner’s inquest, Jones-Sexton said that after sending the e-mail, he also phoned police again to let them know he had just sent them the disclosure. He repeatedly told the coroner that he was ‘100% certain’ that he passed on the information prior to formal disclosure by e-mail.
What police knew
Despite Jones-Sexton’s confident assertions, all these police officers denied any prior knowledge that Davis was about to turn himself in with drugs on board.
But there’s definitive evidence that they knew. First, Jones-Sexton’s testimony was corroborated by police intelligence officer, Rennae Flockton who worked under Sergeant Ritchie. There were six police Intelligence Officers in Dunedin and Jones Sexton had daily phone contact with them. Rennae Flockton testified that they all knew that Davis would be turning himself in with concealed drugs. When he turned up at the police station on Thursday 10 February, she and some other intelligence officers went down “to look at him through the mirrored glass” where they speculated about how he might be concealing the drugs.
Second, Jones-Sexton was very thorough. He not only gave the information to police intelligence, he also conveyed it to police escort staff who took Davis to court the next day. He told them to keep Davis away from another prisoner, Dylan Hill, who was also appearing in court on 11 February to prevent Davis from giving the drugs to Hill. The inquest heard that police at court followed these instructions to the letter.
What police should have done
Senior Sergeant Blackie said that when Davis turned himself in, the Police should have arrested him under the Misuse of Drugs Act which gives police authority to conduct a medical examination and an x-ray. If Davis had refused to co-operate, when he appeared in court the next day, police should have told the Judge that Davis was suspected of internally concealing drugs. Blackie said if they had done that, the judge would have remanded him in police custody – not Corrections custody.
That would almost certainly have saved Davis’ life – because police have a more effective protocol for monitoring drug mules than Corrections; they require four officers to watch the prisoner constantly. Their protocol says:
“The detainee is to be monitored for every second of every minute of every day of the detention. He/she is never to be left unsupervised… The detainee is to be constantly monitored while asleep.”
Corrections, on the other hand, only conducted observations of Davis every 15 minutes. The 15 minutes gaps allowed Davis to remove the drugs from the bottle in his rectum and swallow them – to get rid of the evidence. At the inquest, it was suggested he may have done this on three separate occasions before all the pills were gone.
The Police had Davis in their custody for 24 hours before they took him out to the Otago prison and there is no doubt they knew he had drugs on board. Despite this knowledge, no one did anything to help. Numerous Police officers made exactly the same mistake as numerous Corrections officers (and nurses) – they neglected their statutory duty to call a doctor to have Davis examined. What this means is that if police had done their job properly, Davis would never have been sent to Otago prison at all and would, in all probability, still be alive.
Senior Sergeant Colin Blackie wanted to prosecute prison staff. But a public hearing of Corrections ineptitude in court would have exposed similar misconduct by the police. No wonder he was taken off the case – and no one was prosecuted.