Prisoner whose positive Covid test resulted in Waikato lockdown returns to court

Author
Craig Kapitan, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 24 Sep 2021, 2:38PM
The prisoner tested positive for Covid-19 at Mt Eden Corrections Facility last week. (Photo / NZME)
The prisoner tested positive for Covid-19 at Mt Eden Corrections Facility last week. (Photo / NZME)

Prisoner whose positive Covid test resulted in Waikato lockdown returns to court

Author
Craig Kapitan, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 24 Sep 2021, 2:38PM

A newly convicted shoplifter whose in-person appearance at Manukau District Court last Friday resulted in a Covid-19 lockdown for part of Waikato returned to court today - this time via audio-video link.

The man, from Whakatīwai on the Firth of Thames, was tested for Covid-19 after the hearing last week, six hours after he was remanded in custody and taken to Mt Eden prison.

He then tested positive at the prison.

Wearing blue rubber gloves and a face mask in a holding room as he appeared on video today, he pleaded guilty to six theft charges dating back to last autumn. This time the Manukau courtroom was completely empty of lawyers, although some had appeared in person for previous hearings.

Judge Yelena Yelavich accepted the guilty pleas and remanded him back to custody to await sentencing in November.

Authorities believe the man may have caught Covid-19 during a meandering trip to his Whakatīwai home after he was given his first Covid-19 jab and released from Mt Eden prison on September 8.

GPS data from his electronic monitoring device suggested the 86km route took two hours, 19 minutes and included four stops - including private addresses in Mt Albert and Māngere and at a Pokeno supermarket. Bail conditions had required that he travel straight to his home without any unnecessary stops.

Authorities who have reviewed the GPS data say he stayed at the address until visiting a carpark about 250 metres away. He presented himself to police and spent the night in custody on Thursday last week because his address had become unavailable and the court had revoked his bail and issued a warrant for his arrest.

By the time he returned to court last Friday, he was facing 17 charges altogether, including breaching release conditions and trespassing.

The crimes he pleaded guilty to today included the thefts of a laptop, a phone and multiple guitars from a Mt Roskill business.

The man's in-person appearance exactly one week earlier triggered a scramble to alert contacts and sent a chunk of Waikato into a bespoke lockdown.

"It was just a routine appearance," one person who was present in court last week previously told the Herald, explaining the defendant didn't appear to have sniffles, coughs or any other symptoms that would put people on alert.

"As far as possible, the protocols were followed.

"He just slipped through the cracks because he was asymptomatic."

Officials have confirmed the prisoner appeared in person because no audio-video links were available that day.

He again showed no outward symptoms of Covid-19 during his audio-video link appearance today, speaking up only to tell the judge "guilty" when the six charges were read aloud.