More Top Stories

Rugby league

Moana target 2025 World Cup

11 November 2022

Warden employed despite Corrections aware of previous convictions

Thursday 26 January 2023 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in Court, National


Cook Islands Corrective Services employed a warden despite being aware that he had previous convictions for assault.

Tepareariki Teokotai Patric Rongokea, who appeared in the High Court in Avarua on Tuesday, was sentenced to 12 months’ supervision and six months’ community work for assaulting a fellow prison warden on June 12, 2022.

It was revealed in Court that Rongokea, who is no longer a prison warden, had convictions for assault in 2006, 2009 and 2011.

Read more: ‘Power imbalance’ between victim and attacker

In response to questions from Cook Islands News, Secretary of Corrective Services Teokotai Joseph confirmed they were aware that Rongokea had previous convictions for assault before he was employed.

“The matter has been dealt with by the court and it is in the newspaper and there is no need for further comments,” Joseph said.

However, Joseph declined to comment further on the matter when asked about the rationale for hiring someone in a warden role despite having previous assault convictions, and how Rongokea was regarded as an employee.

During the High Court sentencing, Chief Justice Patrick Keane said the incident, which occurred on June 12, 2022, was unprovoked, and that the “power balance” between Rongokea and the victim, a fellow prison warden, was also significant.

“Your colleagues at the prison say they could smell the alcohol on you,” Chief Justice Keane told Rongokea in Court.

Chief Justice Keane also noted a further “abuse of authority” when Rongokea attempted to stop the victim from filing a complaint.

The Court also heard that Rongokea threw the victim to the ground and punched him in the face, while Chief Justice Keane also pointed out there was a serious risk of strangulation.

“You singled out the complainant without any justification,” Chief Justice Keane told Rongokea.

At the sentencing, Rongokea’s defence counsel Mark Short told the Court that Rongokea was an upstanding member of the community, who had raised money for many different people and was willing to help when required.

“He is truly remorseful. He is not a bad person, he’s just fiery,” Short told the Court.