Please note: This story contains reference to someone who has died.
The coronial inquest into a 2016 Aboriginal death in custody has unveiled concerns around the training of corrective services staff.
The inquest, which began in Adelaide on Tuesday at the Supreme Court of South Australia, is investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of 29-year-old Wiradjuri, Kookatha and Wirangu man Wayne Fella Morrison.
Morrison died in custody at Royal Adelaide Hospital in September 2016.
Whilst on remand at Adelaide’s Yatala Labour Prison, it is alleged Morrison was violent in holding cells prior to his bail hearing.
Morrison was then handcuffed, restrained by ankle flexi-cuffs and put in a spit hood. He was placed face down into a prison van accompanied by seven prison officers and transported to G Division, the high security section of the prison.
He was pulled unresponsive from the van and died three days later. There is no CCTV evidence from inside the van.
Morrison’s family was present at the inquest, including his mother Caroline Andersen and sibling Latoya Rule who have been calling for answers since 2016.
Today in S.A, Fella’s Mum Caroline shares a touching and strong recount about who Wayne was, and their family’s need for transparency and accountability for Wayne’s death. #JusticeforFella @IndigenousX @AJ_Whittaker pic.twitter.com/HIyFo21uqb
— NATSILS (@NATSILS_) April 27, 2021
“For years we have anticipated coming face to face with the seven officers who can likely answer these questions for us,” Rule said.
“Over the coming weeks we will stand, with the support of our allies nationally and globally, to call for truth-telling in the State of South Australia and in the Coroners Court.
“We continue to call for transparency, accountability, systemic change and support of the Royal Commission recommendations.
“At the end of the day, Wayne did not restrain himself.”
The inquest took testimony in person for the first time since before COVID-19 restrictions.
On Tuesday, Yatala Labour Prison officer Shirley Bell gave evidence stating there had been issues with training in regard to admission and intake interviews.
Bell said junior officers are expected to conduct interviews with new inmates despite having inadequate training.
She noted the reasoning behind such processes were due to a lack of financial resources and understaffing.
“We are at a critical place at Yatala at the moment,” she said.
“There are constant lockdowns, [prisoners] can’t have visits … they don’t get phone calls … and don’t get yard time.
“I would not like to be a person with mental health issues [in this prison].”
Bell also disclosed that the recommendations from the SA Ombudsman’s report into Morrison’s death, published last year, had not been shared with staff inside the prison.
Prison officer Michael Penn gave evidence at the inquest on Wednesday.
Penn had arrived to work on the afternoon of the incident, telling the inquest he had serious concerns regarding the welfare of staff.
He described feeling “surprised” to see a Department for Correctional Services investigator and that the investigator had told him his attendance was due to a potential coronial matter.
The court also heard that Penn is on the board of the Correctional Officers Legal Fund which supplies legal advice to prison staff.
In his testimony, Penn told the inquest he made two phone calls seeking legal advice after becoming aware of the potential “coronial matter”.
He also told a prison officer to “hold off” from uploading incident reports until staff had been given legal advice.
Penn said he didn’t seek the advice of his supervisors before requesting the delay in uploading the reports.
“I never spoke to management at all, I never even saw them that night … Where were they hiding?” Penn said.
He then said he made the two phone calls for advice before asking a fellow prison officer to delay incident report uploads. The incident reports had begun uploading at 3.43pm and had stopped at 3.50pm.
“I phoned him, seeking legal advice and let him know the seriousness of this matter,” Penn told the inquest.
“They should have the opportunity to seek advice … I was taking care of members.”
Penn told the inquest that a death in custody was not his “focus” and he did not expect for there to be a death.
“I honestly didn’t think we’d have a death in custody from restraining the prisoner … I thought he was there to assist with an investigation into a potential assault [of] officers,” he said.
The inquest will continue into the following weeks.
By Rachael Knowles