A number of times we’ve blogged about the death of corrections officer Jason Palmer, who died in May 2010 after he was punched by an inmate at Springhill prison in the Waikato, New Zealand. The prisoner, Latu Kepa, was alleged to have been a member of the Killer Beez gang.
Kepa later pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received a six year and four month jail sentence.
Mr Palmer, an ex member of the US Marine Corp, had been living in New Zealand for eight years but something caused him join NZ’s prison service six months before he died . He had reportedly described his new job as a “hand-to-hand combat situation“
At the time the Waikato Times published a report in which the said that Mr Palmer had felt unsafe at the prison and wanted to leave. There were other reports that the prison was understaffed.
A few months later the Sunday News reported that the killing had been a gang ordered hit and that the corrections department knew about the allegations three weeks before Mr Palmer died.
Now Hamilton coroner, Gordon Matenga, has announced he is to hold an inquest into the death of Jason Palmer. His spokeswoman said
“Some issues had been raised and he feels an inquest is necessary and will take place.”
And not before time, in June Mr Palmer’s mother Ada was said to be furious that Kepa was only charged with manslaughter, she vowed to write to John Key and call for changes in prison procedures to protect other officers, many of whom felt poorly equipped to deal with violent prisoners. Jason’s family needs to know what happened to him and the full circumstances of his death. There are lessons to be learned here that may benefit the safety of all corrections officers in New Zealand.