‘He hasn’t yet lost his humanity’: Lawyer argues young Black Power man is not ‘who he seems’

Puniwahirau Mason earned his Black Power patch at the age of 17, the court heard (file photo).

David Hallett/Stuff

Puniwahirau Mason earned his Black Power patch at the age of 17, the court heard (file photo).

A young man’s extensive gang tattoos across his face are not representative of who he really is, a lawyer says.

Puniwahirau Mason, 25, earned his Black Power patch at the age of 17 but has not yet “lost his humanity”.

Defence lawyer Fergus Steedman told the Palmerston North District Court on Thursday his client was not who he appeared to be and in his experience was actually a “thoughtful” man with potential.

Mason was appearing for sentence on charges of assaulting a prison officer, breach of release conditions, driving while disqualified and unlawfully getting into a motor vehicle.

With the instantly-recognisable Black Power fist on his cheek, Mason stood silent with his arms crossed throughout the hearing.

Fergus Steedman says his client is hopeful of making a life for himself on the outside.

Murray Wilson/Stuff

Fergus Steedman says his client is hopeful of making a life for himself on the outside.

Steedman said he had little support on the outside, and the gang had become his family “for all the wrong reasons, but all the traditional ones” too.

The assault on the prison officer in February was “random” and Mason had told him he was genuinely sorry for the “unprovoked” attack.

The officer had suffered a broken nose and ongoing pain months after the incident, which involved Mason and two others.

Mason punched the officer in the face, and continued doing so after the victim put his arms up in defence.

The court heard the assault came at a time when frustrations were high and people were being held in cells for up to “27 hours” due to staffing shortages.

Steedman said he had no idea what the future would hold for Mason, but there would need to be a “tectonic shift” in his lifestyle.

He wanted to make a go of life on the outside when given the chance, and reconnect with a younger brother who was living in the Horowhenua area.

Mason’s mother was also in prison but “focused on her own rehabilitation”.

Judge Jonathan Krebs said the most significant offence was the assault on the prison officer, although it only carried a maximum penalty of six months in jail.

He said during the assault Mason was not the first to be involved, but joined in after another inmate began the attack.

He took a set of keys off the guard and threatened to hit him with them before taking off.

Mason did not get far and was “quickly subdued”.

Krebs noted his remarks to a probation officer about his readiness to change, but said his risk of reoffending was high.

He had “frequently” offended and, “despite his young age”, already had 46 convictions.

“I hope you are [ready to change]….because if you don’t, you will be coming in and out of that door.

“That is such a waste of time and a good life.”

Krebs said jail was in part inevitable for Mason who had no suitable address for home detention.

He left school at the age of 14 and hoped to turn the correspondence he’d completed into a trade.

Krebs told him once he got into the rhythm of working and earning, gang life would be less appealing.

One of his biggest challenges was his association with the Black Power.

“The gang has fitted into your life as family members and that is difficult to tear away from…you need to make some tough decisions and have some tough conversations with yourself.”

He also referred to Steedman’s submission that the facial tattoos were not representative of who Mason was.

“I hope that is the case.”

On all charges, he sentenced Mason to 12.5 months’ jail with six months’ post-detention conditions.

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