Please note: This story contains reference to someone who has died.
The inquest into the 2017 death in custody of 39-year-old Noongar man Mr Riley has found the Western Australian police officers who tasered and restrained him did not use “excessive force”.
Mr Riley died following a confrontation outside of an Officeworks in East Perth in May 2017. Police were called to the store after unrelated reports of a robbery.
The officers approached the father of six, who was reportedly seen slapping his head and rocking side to side, and called an ambulance. It was recorded Mr Riley had a history of drug-induced psychosis and his family were concerned about his welfare.
Mr Riley then reportedly advanced on police and Constable Rory Winterburn, who was one of two officers on the scene, discharged his taser.
The inquest heard that Mr Riley attempted to take hold of the other officer, Constable James Wolfe’s firearm and bit down on his arm causing excessive bleeding.
The inquest heard Constable Winterburn’s taser was trigger-activated 10 times in the two minutes before other officers arrived on the scene.
Multiple officers arrived and assisted in restraining Mr Riley, who was held down for seven minutes before the ambulance arrived.
Footage of the event shown at the inquest sees Mr Riley wailing as he was restrained.
— PerthNow (@perthnow) May 13, 2017
When the ambulance arrived, Mr Riley was lying on his stomach and non-responsive. Several attempts were made to resuscitate him at the scene. He later died at Royal Perth Hospital.
On Tuesday, the inquest found the police officers did not use “excessive” force on Mr Riley.
A pathologist providing evidence to the inquest said Mr Riley’s death was consistent with cardiac arrhythmia “following violent exertion necessitating physical restraint in a man with methamphetamine effect, known systemic hypertension and morbid obesity”.
The inquest also heard from cardiologist Johan Janssen, who said exertion against restraint and Mr Riley’s use of methamphetamine were likely causes of his cardiac arrhythmia.
He also said the use of the taser on Mr Riley was “probably in the bottom” of the list of possible causes.
Pharmacologist David Joyce told the inquest that methamphetamine had an “adrenaline-like” effect on the heart and could cause it to beat abnormally.
Coroner Michael Jenkin concluded that the evidence provided to the inquest indicated that police officers had no other alternative for restraining Mr Riley.
He noted the officers had primarily focused on ensuring that Mr Riley’s limbs were restrained, however, did not escalate ambulance priority when they believed he was showing signs of “excited delirium”.
He also said the use of ‘fast-strap’ leg restrains would have been better suited to the situation.
The Coroner also noted that Mr Riley had been pulled over by police for erratic driving the evening prior to his death. He was taken to Royal Perth Hospital and left not long after his arrival. He returned to hospital four times that night.
The Coroner recommended the hospital implement a procedure of following up with people who had left without treatment and ensure Aboriginal patients have better access to Aboriginal liaison staff.
It was also recommended the WA Police mental health co-response program be expanded.
Greg McIntyre SC, who is representing Mr Riley’s family in the inquest, said the family supported the Coroner’s recommendations.
The inquest will hand down its findings at a later date.
By Rachael Knowles