A young drug addict at the centre of a violent row has clocked up another assault conviction.
Ngametua Tiatoa was in a violent clash with Apii Angene, the son of government minister George Angene. Apii, angry at the intoxicated man sniffing petrol in front of children, acknowledged he hit Tiatoa – who hit back.
Eyewitnesses told police they believed the wrong man was arrested and charged, but the Angene family rejects that, and the court has accepted Tiatoa’s guilty plea.
Counsellors say the community and its leaders need to talk about substance abuse, alcohol, speed, and other harm contributing to the deaths of young people – and to provide proper health support rather than just throwing them in jail.
Tiatoa, who has previously admitted being a substance abuser, was ordered to come up for sentencing if he reoffends within three months.
Police prosecutor senior sergeant Tuaine Manavaroa told Justice of the Peace Carmen Temata that Tiatoa was sniffing petrol across from the Avarua wharf on January 24, when some people had seen that he was intoxicated.
One of those people had approached him and tried to stop him, Manavaroa said.
Rebeka Buchanan, coordinator of family counselling organisation Punanga Tauturu Inc, said a substance abuser like Tiatoa required a lot of wraparound services – and sadly most of these were not available in the Cook Islands.
“Let’s look at this case, to show people the seriousness of letting young people coping on their own, without the means to support and help themselves get out of it.”
She said there was a need to put strategies in place for young people.
“We need a way to assess someone, when they are reported, or they want to seek help or have a referral system. We need a coordinator and a help centre for addicts.
“At the end of the day, we cannot keep treating such cases as a criminal antisocial or behavioural problems.”
Buchanan said Tiatoa definitely needed help, a home and people to be responsible for his wellbeing.
She said the “immediate help” needed was proper assessment by a health expert or psychologist.
“Until we can have some answers to these basic questions, we really won’t be able to put something together, just yet, but we can definitely start working towards improving or filling the gap.”