Family performs courtroom haka to remember Jack Kokaua

It is believed to be the first time a haka has been performed in the court. The proceedings were streamed to the court’s media room, which quickly became packed with staff from the forensic medicine and court complex. So many people wanted to watch the family’s tribute that a second room had to be opened.

Family members hug outside the inquest.Credit:Wolter Peeters

Mr Kokaua’s mother, Queenie Tana, thanked the Coroner for allowing the family to show their love for Jack. She acknowledged her family in Maori and Tongan, and explained that she said she loved them and “be strong”.

Counsel assisting the Coroner, Kristina Stern SC, previously said Mr Kokaua was Tasered three times in two minutes and CCTV showed “a number of officers with their weight on Jack’s body” for about four minutes before he was rolled onto his back.

The inquest was previously told the first sign anything was wrong was when one of the officers who had wrestled with Mr Kokaua asked, “Is he breathing?”.

One of the shirts displaying the tribute to Jack Kokaua.

One of the shirts displaying the tribute to Jack Kokaua.Credit:Wolter Peeters

In closing remarks, barrister Brent Haverfield – representing three police officers – said one of the wires of the Taser used on Mr Kokaua was broken and it had “no useful application” the second time it was deployed. The third time it appeared not to work either.

Mr Haverfield said the lengthy inquest took weeks to dissect every second of a situation that lasted only minutes. He described it as “a wild, chaotic interaction between a very large person who didn’t want to be controlled” and police officers who were “struggling to cope”.

Barrister Paul Madden, representing three other police officers, said the situation had been “a terrible outcome for Jack and his family” which wasn’t the outcome the officers wanted.

“Jack dictated the police response, not the other way around,” Mr Madden said.

Kim Burke, representing NSW Police, said Mr Kokaua’s cause of death was listed as “unascertained” and the Coroner could not be reasonably satisfied he died as a result of Taser use and positional asphyxia.

The family’s lawyer Paul Townsend said in a closing statement that there was “a storm of systemic failures” in the agencies that were required to care for Mr Kokaua, including community corrections, housing, the mental health system, and ultimately the police.

“Each one contributed in their way to the perfect storm of long-term factors contributing to his death,” Mr Townsend said.

He said the family saw a contrast in the evidence given by RPA staff and the evidence given by the police involved in the final altercation.

“The account of what Jack was like at the hospital was the Jack they knew. In fact, Queenie commented that the hospital witnesses gave her son back,” Mr Townsend said.

“Each one of those witnesses took the time to express and offer their condolences to the family. It struck the family very powerfully that only one of the police witnesses did that.”

Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan thanked Mr Kokaua’s family for attending the inquest and thanked them for the “incredibly moving experience” of performing a haka and singing the song.

“I know it was to honour Jack and you have certainly done that today,” she said. “Thank you.”

Findings are expected to be delivered next year.

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