The independent review team into the tragic killings of Maryann Dean and Roger Tauarea by escaped prisoner Chris Rimomotu, yesterday released their 64-page report into the shootings, the subsequent manhunt, the police siege of the gunman’s hideout and his eventual death.
Former Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Denis McDermott and retired Cook Islands Police Commissioner Tevai Matapo spent nearly two months investigating the tragedy and writing their report. They deemed the incident “preventable”.
They interviewed 87 members of the community in groups and individually and looked at policies, procedures, practices and processes of the Ministry of Health, Prison Services, the Cook Islands Police Service and Customs Services.
Yesterday McDermott and Matapo revealed their findings to CI News.
They said the Prison Services systems failed and the problems were compounded by, “a lack of staff, accommodation and equipment, aided by poor judgment and decisions with a failure to comply with legislation and policies”.
“They were the catalysts that allowed for the fatal domestic violence committed by the offender.”
Rimamotu was serving a seven-year sentence for serious criminal offences at the time he escaped a prison work vehicle, retrieved a weapon from a container and shot the victims.
The review team said: “Clearly it is our assessment that this tragedy would not have occurred had the security and medical systems within the prison been sufficiently stringent enough in order to manage Chris Rimamotu.
“The actions of allowing serious offenders into the community under any circumstances should not continue.
“Hence the suggestion for the total review and overhaul of the legislation, practices and systems.”
They identified “significant failures” in the Justice ministry, namely the prison system, that need immediate attention.
Among the 47 recommendations in their 1700-word report are seven suggestions that would involve substantial amounts of money, while others could be achieved fairly quickly.
On the costly side are recommendations to replace the existing prison with a “modern and more humane building”, doubling the number of prison wardens, equipping them with uniforms, batons and handcuffs, putting fire-fighting equipment into the prison, introducing a new police Tactical Support Unit to deal with armed offenders and fully equipping it.
Other suggestions were to develop an electronic alert system for emergencies, extend the gun amnesty indefinitely and hand out mandatory minimum sentences for those with unlicensed weapons.
McDermott and Matapo also recommended the government:
Immediately stop the hiring of inmates by wardens at weekends.
Conduct an assessment on mental health procedures for inmates.
Ban prisoners from having mobile phones.
Hire a full-time clinical psychologist to give assistance to prisoners and emergency workers.
Immediately hire three more female wardens.
Immediately fill all prison staff vacancies.
Increase the number of staff from two wardens to a minimum of four officers per shift.
Stop the prisoner work release programme for all but offenders with less than a 12-month sentence.
Boost training for all prison staff to improve skills to international standards.
Give urgent attention to purchasing equipment such as uniforms, batons, handcuffs and fire extinguishers for the prison and its staff.
Purchase a secure vehicle to transport prisoners.
Urgently review all work-release programme procedures and modernise the existing Prison Act.
The report said: “Some of the recommendations require immediate attention. As stated earlier, many of the recommendations could be acted upon immediately with minor policy changes.
“There appears to be a lack of control of prisoners (although escorted) who have committed serious crimes for which they have been imprisoned. Some should not be allowed back into the community in any form, until the last 12 months of their prison sentence.
“The Prison Act and many of the existing policies need to be fully reviewed and amended to reflect society as it is today.
“Customs, Airport Security, and Immigration, as a collective on border security, all have a number of minor issues to consider; however again some of the recommendations are related to policy and procedural improvements.
“The Ministry of Health will have to consider the medical services provided to the prison inmates and also make a minor change to the ambulance response system.
“The Cook Islands Police Service also has a number of recommendations to consider and during the review process it was clear and accepted by the CIPS executive that they are attempting already to make the necessary changes.
“Some of these changes impact on their response capability with regards to hostile situations, including a new approach to the media requirements in events of public interest.”
More reports in CI News later this week.