Covid 19 Delta outbreak: prisoner went to court, then tested positive at Mt Eden prison

There were 24 new cases of COVID-19 in the community on September 19.

A prisoner who arrived at an Auckland prison appeared in court on Friday when no technology was available to allow him to appear remotely, and he later tested positive for Covid-19.

More than a dozen people are considered contacts and the Manukau District Court, a nearby detention unit and police vehicles had to be thoroughly cleaned.

But legal sources, including one who was in court on Friday, said more staff present now had to self-isolate, and some had only been alerted to the situation today.

After an investigation by the Herald, police and the Justice Department confirmed that the man had appeared in person at the Manukau District Court.

The Herald understands that the defendant was in Courtroom 4 from 12:05 p.m. to 12:21 p.m.

Officials said four police officers, five prison staff and six prisoners were being treated as contacts.

But correspondence showed more people were made redundant than the number officially reported.

The Herald has learned that some of the many resigned lawyers have had no contact with authorities until today.

A legal source, one of many in court on Friday, said the officially released contact list excluded “casual plus” contact.

Casual plus contacts should be tested immediately, and tested again on Day 5, which will be this Wednesday.

The courtroom was relatively busy on Friday by New Zealand lockdown standards, and officials struggled to identify everyone who was in court at the relevant time.

The forensic source said officials were obsessed with a heavy bureaucratic chain of command that failed to respond quickly to the Covid-19 case.

“We are in South Auckland. We are in the worst possible place,” the source said, referring to Manukau’s location near some of the city’s most enduring Covid sub-clusters.

Justice Secretary Andrew Kibblewhite told recipients of justice sector emails this afternoon that the Department of Health considers the court to be closed to the public, and therefore not a place of interest.

The New Zealand Law Society told its members today: “Four people in the courtroom have been asked to self-isolate and get tested.”

The Herald has sent the Justice and Health Departments tonight questions relating to “more relaxed” contact and the accused’s time in the courtroom.

Lawyers said the Herald Auckland District Court had full audiovisual access (AVL) to the custody units in Mt Eden, but the Manukau District Court did not.

The Auckland-Mt Eden audiovisual link was established after a pilot project 10 years ago.

Several lawyers said today that the degree of cases conducted in person and in close proximity to defendants in Manukau was unusually high by New Zealand standards.

“Nobody cares about criminal lawyers anyway. We are on the front lines, dealing with everyone,” a frustrated lawyer from Manukau said tonight.

They said Manukau’s lawyers were dealing with an inadequate AVL system in one of the country’s largest courts – and that it was now clearly putting people’s health or lives at risk.

AVL (or lack thereof) blamed

Despite the fact that several staff from different agencies are now having to isolate themselves, it is not known if anything will be done to expand the capacities of the audiovisual courts.

Justice Department director of operations Carl Crafar said the accused was in custody and appeared in person in court around noon on Friday.

“Based on directives from the Ministry of Health, the four people who were in the courtroom with the accused self-isolated and were asked to be tested. “

Crafar said if facilities for audio-visual connections (AVL) were not available, the defendants would appear in person.

“Based on directives from the Ministry of Health, the four people who were in the courtroom with the accused self-isolated and were asked to be tested. “

According to the Covid-19 protocols, district courts always conduct priority proceedings at Alert Level 4 and in person when AVL is not available.

Police said four staff members were isolating themselves at the home on the advice of health officials. They must isolate themselves for 14 days.

These staff members were involved in transporting a man who had been arrested on a warrant for failing to appear.

“The man was taken to the Manukau detention unit in a police vehicle, and his partner was taken to another address in a separate police vehicle,” a police spokeswoman said.

“The pair wore face coverings and all staff wore masks and N95 gloves. There was no indication to staff that either of the two was wrong.”

Prison quarantine unit

Earlier today, the Vice President of the Prison Association, Paul Dennehy, said the prisoner was one of 13 people remanded in Mt Eden and tested for Covid-19 shortly after arriving. .

All of the prisoners at Auckland Central Institution, except one, tested negative.

The prisoner was located in part of the Tikapa Moana / Firth of Thames region, but within the boundaries of the Manukau Counties District Health Board, prior to his arrival in the Auckland metropolitan area.

“The individual and his cell mates have been transferred to the site’s quarantine unit,” Dennehy said.

Dennehy said the Corrections Association was working with management to ensure the situation was handled appropriately.

“It was only a matter of time before someone with Covid entered a prison facility,” Dennehy added.

He said staff wore full PPE if necessary.

Public health director Dr Caroline McElnay confirmed the prisoner had traveled from Manukau counties.

At the government press conference at 1 p.m., McElnay said four police officers, five prison staff and six prisoners were being treated as contacts.

The man who tested positive was traveling with another person who was now isolating himself.

There was no suggestion that the prisoner had traveled from outside an area currently on Alert Level 4.

McElnay said the prisoner and the person traveling with him had cooperated and were following Covid-19’s instructions and security protocols.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern praised the health and safety measures at the prison.

“I want to recognize the extraordinarily rigorous protocols that led to this detection,” she said this afternoon.

She said newly arrived prisoners were supposed to wear masks and were kept separate from other prisoners.

Ardern said the inmate arrived at Mt Eden at 6:45 p.m. Friday and was tested shortly after, which is common practice.

Staff working with the inmate were in their own capsule or bubble and fully immunized.

Detention director Neil Beales said the man was locked in his cell at 9:10 p.m. and therefore had very limited contact with other prisoners and staff.

“All new receptions in custody are transported in a secure vehicle and prisoners and staff are required to wear PPE,” Beales said in a statement.

“Our prison escort vehicles have improved cleaning procedures in place to prevent any risk of the virus spreading between movements.”

Beales said corrections provided information to all affected prisoners and explained health and safety measures to inmates.

He said that at Alert Level 4, the prison was closed to all visitors and only essential staff were on site.

The Herald understood that lawyers at the Manukau District Court had been informed of a positive Covid-19 test result.

Ardern at the 1 p.m. press conference said she did not know of any judges or lawyers needing to self-isolate due to exposure to Covid-19.

At Level 4, most lawyers, especially defense lawyers, worked remotely.

But in some recent hearings, judges, clerks and police prosecutors have been in the courtrooms.

Prison officers at a Manukau District Court hearing on Friday were seen wearing surgical gowns, gloves and masks. Other people in the court wore face masks.

At level 4, no new jury trials begin in the High Court or District Court.

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About Charles D. Goolsby

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