‘Lack of care’ by NT Police led to death in custody

Allyson Horn and Ruby Jones for http://www.ABC.net.au

The Northern Territory coroner has found the death of an Aboriginal man in custody was due to a lack of care by police and could have been prevented.

An inquest heard Kwementyaye Briscoe, 27, was dragged along the floor by police at the Alice Springs watch house after being taken into protective custody for being drunk in January.

Police told the inquest they did not seek medical treatment for a wound on Mr Briscoe’s head nor check on him in his cell for more than two hours.

Instead, officers were on the internet or listening to music.

Coroner Greg Cavanagh said police errors were extensive.

“I find that the care, supervision and treatment of the deceased while being held in custody by the Northern Territory Police was completely inadequate and unsatisfactory and not sufficient to meet his medical needs,” he said.

“This lack of care resulted in his death.

“That is to say this death was preventable and it should not have occurred.”

Mr Cavanagh said the issue raised serious questions about mismanagement in the police force.

“In my view the catalogue of errors is so extensive and involves so many police officers of various rank as to suggest mismanagement for a period of time by police command at a level higher than just local.”

The coroner said other prisoners had heard “choking and gasping” coming from Mr Briscoe’s cell at 11.45pm, but their efforts to get the attention of police officers were in vain.

Mr Briscoe’s body was not discovered until 1.43am when the watch commander went to check on him.

‘Errors and failures’

The coroner said up to 10 officers have been formally disciplined over “errors and failures” on the night of Mr Briscoe’s death.

He noted another young Indigenous man had died in the same watch house in 2009, and the failings then should have been rectified.

“It is completely unacceptable that it took another death in custody to highlight the persistent failures,” Mr Cavanagh said.

He said NT Police have since devoted significant resources to implementing reforms, including an increase in staff numbers and watch house nurses.

Outside the court, Assistant Police Commissioner Mark Payne said it was clear the death was a tragedy.

“We certainly have accepted the full findings. We now need to review them,” he said.

“Certainly any death in custody is a tragedy. The Northern Territory Police Force sees it as a tragedy.

“We’ve taken steps up to this point, we certainly will continue to take steps to ensure that another tragedy is unlikely and should never happen again in the future.”

Family members of Mr Briscoe shouted abuse at police officers as they left court.

“He was a young man, didn’t even have a wife and kids and policemen walk free,” one said.

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Posted on September 17, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I have also blogged about this issue because I find it quite distressing and concerning that there has been no substantial chances since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody. In my opinion, such a finding reveals to us that there is an urgent need for all places of detention to be subject to independent monitoring and oversight.

    My three suggestions to help fix this issue are:
    1. Introducing the Optional Protocol for Convention Against Torture.
    2. Increase in Staff Numbers and Watch House Nurses.
    3. Alternative Restorative Justice Projects diminishing Aboriginal prison rates and redirecting youth behaviours and attitudes through mediation

    Yes, the 1991 commission had excellent recommendations. SADLY, these were not executed at their full potential as seen with this tragic death in custody. The fact that another young Indigenous man had died in the same watch house in 2009, just reveals the lack of improvements!

    Great blog 🙂

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