Prison guards lose bid to avoid giving evidence over Aboriginal death in custody
Prison guards will be required to give evidence over the death of an Aboriginal man in custody, after arguing that doing so could lead to criminal charges.
- Seven prison guards will be compelled to give evidence to the Coroner’s Court
- Wayne Fella Morrison died three days after being pulled blue and unresponsive from a prison van
- There’s no footage of what happened inside the van
Wayne Fella Morrison died on September 26, 2016 at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, three days after being pulled unresponsive from a prison transport van at Yatala Labour Prison in Adelaide’s north.
Mr Morrison was restrained with handcuffs, ankle flexi-cuffs and a spit mask and placed facedown in the rear of the van, with eight prison officers accompanying him from the prison’s holding cells.
It has been alleged Mr Morrison became violent in the holding cells before his bail hearing and assaulted several prison officers.
Lawyers for the prison guards argued they should be able to exercise privilege against self-exposure to a penalty, privilege against self-incrimination, and that the Coroner’s Court was not entitled to look at what happened after Mr Morrison was pulled from the van.
However, deputy coroner Jayne Basheer rejected those arguments and said the question of self-incrimination could be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
She said a coronial inquest differed from other court proceedings and was not bound by the rules of evidence.
Wayne Fella Morrison died in hospital after being restrained by a group of prison officers. (Facebook: Latoya Rule)
Ms Basheer said she was obliged to examine the wider circumstances behind a death in custody and that the “truth seeking” aims of the court meant there were limited circumstances under which those aims could be thwarted.
“When reaching this conclusion I am mindful that [it] is some 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody,” she said.
“If there are systemic issues within Yatala Labour Prison that have affected the capacity of the institution to fully assess and review a critical event… that have affected the integrity of the police investigation, it is the duty of this court to examine those circumstances.”
The Coroner’s Court has heard that while CCTV footage showed what happened in the prison, there was no recorded footage of what happened in the prison van during the journey.
When the van arrived at “G Division”, a high security section of the prison, Mr Morrison was blue and unresponsive.
A code black, classified as a medical emergency, was called.
CPR started when prison health staff arrived.
Three minutes passed between the removal of Mr Morrison from the van and the start of attempts to resuscitate him, Ms Basheer’s ruling noted.
It was approximately five minutes before triple-0 was called.
The prison officers are yet to tell the court about what happened in the van, and in the preceding hours at Yatala.
Police were initially refused access to the prison officers.
In the hours after the incident, staff who were involved, witnessed or who had become aware of the incident gathered at the gatehouse of the prison, the president of the Public Service Association arrived, as well as lawyers called by the prison officers.
None of the prison officers who were involved or witnessed the incident provided statements to police on the day.
Most also declined to provide employee reports on the incident.
The inquest will continue this week.