Waikeria prison riot: Two rioters jailed but making meaningful change, court hears

One prisoner lost the ashes of his dead daughter, while some Corrections officers are still undergoing counselling after the largest and most destructive riot in a New Zealand prison.

But now one of the instigators of the six-day riot at Waikeria Prison says he wants to “step away from the darkness” and turn his life around, while another participant is currently getting his tattoos removed.

While Parata Taite and Manutaki Kameta were sentenced last week for their involvement, their outcomes were suppressed until a verdict was reached in the trial of three of their co-defendants. Those men were today found guilty of most of the charges they faced.

Last week, the court heard Taite lit one of the first fires in the exercise yard in Waikeria Prison on 29 December 2020. It was one of more than 30 that would be lit over several days, resulting in Corrections officers having to battle smoke and flames to save prisoners trapped in their cells.

The 26-year-old pleaded guilty to several charges and appeared before Justice Neil Campbell in the High Court at Hamilton for sentencing.

Kameta, the only one of the 17 to give himself up part-way through, was also sentenced, jailed for five years and three months for his role.

Taite not only had his counsel, Anoushka Bloem, fight for a variety of discounts on his behalf, but he also twice spoke to the judge. First, he recited a mihi at the start of

proceedings and later vowed to continue to do rehabilitative work with the Grace Foundation.

The court heard how he was recently given compassionate leave to attend the birth of his two-week-old baby, and how his son and his partner gave him a reason to pursue a better life.

“I come from a long line of people who have been in and out of jail,” he told the court.

“I don’t see that for myself and my son.”

He said he just needed to find peace within himself.

“I will work as hard as I can to better myself.

“The way I want to show my remorse is to change my life and step away from the darkness.”

Earlier, Bloem pushed for a total of 70 per cent worth of discounts for her client, including for his early guilty plea, cultural report, rehabilitative steps, remorse and youth.

The court heard how 26 fires were lit on the prison’s rooftops as prisoners remained trapped in their cells below.

“Hundreds of prisoners were locked inside cells and secure areas that were burning and filling with smoke,” Justice Campbell said.

“Corrections officers had to enter these areas to free prisoners, many of whom were unresponsive and had to be dragged or carried out.

“Meanwhile you and the other rioters attacked the officers and prisoners from above. The other prisoners were rescued with little time to spare before lives were lost.”

The damage was not only extensive and cost more than $50 million, but also personal and psychological, with many staff still undergoing counselling.

Hundreds of prisoners lost personal items, including family photographs and in one case, a daughter’s ashes.

The destruction also meant the prison could no longer receive remand prisoners from the Bay of Plenty or south Waikato, meaning they had to be housed in a jail further away from where they lived, putting strain on families.

Corrections staff also had to be relocated.

“Of most concern, is that your actions endangered the lives of hundreds of others. The extent of the loss and damage is also of serious concern.”

However, Justice Campbell accepted Taite’s childhood was “chaotic” and marred by “serious poverty”.

He was handed “backward and forwards” between family members and suffered serious physical violence growing up, which normalised such behaviour for him.

He smoked cannabis from age 7, was drinking alcohol by 14 and smoked meth by 18.

After taking a start point of 12 years, Justice Campbell gave credit for his background issues, rehabilitative prospects, guilty plea and time spent on electronically-monitored bail, before reaching an end sentence of four years and seven months.

Meanwhile, Kameta, 29, was jailed by Justice Graham Lang on three charges: causing riotous damage, arson and assault with a weapon.

When his co-accused learned Kameta was going to give himself up on the prison rooftop, he was assaulted, the court heard.

A cultural report revealed he had little to do with his parents growing up and he spent his teenage years around gangs, and at one stage in a youth facility.

He wasn’t a “fully fledged” gang member but had associated with the Crips. The judge noted how Kamta was currently getting his facial tattoos removed.

The judge took a starting point of eight years and four months before coming to an end term of five years and three months.