A prison inmate is to appear in court today in relation
to the first New Zealand prison guard to be killed while on
American-born Jason Palmer, 33, died in Auckland's Middlemore
Hospital yesterday after being punched by an inmate at Spring
Hill Prison at Hampton Downs, about 65km south of Auckland,
on Saturday afternoon.
Department of Corrections chief executive Barry Matthews said
it appeared Mr Palmer was punched shortly after he and two
other prison guards opened the inmate's cell.
He fell back and hit his head on the floor as the other two
guards restrained the prisoner.
Although there had not yet been an autopsy, Mr Matthews said
it appeared a combination of the punch and the striking of
his head on the floor caused Mr Palmer's fatal injuries.
The inmate, reportedly a Killer Beez gang member, was due to
appear in Hamilton District Court today charged with assault.
Further charges were expected to be laid.
Mr Palmer, a former United States Marine Corps member, moved
to New Zealand eight years ago and lived with his wife and
two children, aged five and two.
His family said they were focusing on remembering him as he
was, rather than on how he died.
Younger brother Justin Palmer, 28, speaking from his mother's
house in Woodbridge, Virginia, told the Dominion Post his
brother had lived for his wife and children.
"He was a dedicated family man -- he went to work to support
his family," he told The Dominion Post.
"He would make you laugh -- even during a very dark time,
even being down in the dumps."
Mr Palmer's death sparked calls from the Corrections
Association for better protection for officers in prisons.
Association president Beven Hanlon said police dealt with the
same people but were much better protected, with equipment
including dogs, stab-proof vests and Tasers.
However, Mr Matthews said he believed the department took the
security of its staff very seriously, but there was always a
risk given that the prisons were full of violent people.
"We've had a staff safety programme to actually improve
safety. We've increased the equipment, we've put a lot of
effort into training," he said.
"But at the end of it there's always been that potential risk
that somebody just impulsively attacks an officer."
Mr Matthews said there was nothing to indicate that what the
officers did was anything other than proper procedure.
Corrections Minister Judith Collins said yesterday she did
not wish to comment on criticisms of the general safety of
the staff while investigations were under way.