Content warning: This story contains distressing details and reference to suicide. Please refer to the services at the bottom of this article for support.
Please note: This story contains reference to someone who has died.
The inquest into a 2018 Aboriginal death in custody in North Queensland has heard paramedics did not adequately assess the victim after he was forcefully detained by two Queensland Police officers.
Trevor King died in Townsville after suffering cardiac arrest in the early hours of February 10, 2018.
The inquest took place across three days last week.
It heard from Dr Stephen Rashford, Queensland Ambulance Service specialist emergency physician, that King did not receive an adequate assessment before being placed in an ambulance.
Dr Rashford described the paramedics’ actions as falling “below standard”.
“In Mr King’s case, I don’t think it’s one primary cause — I think a number of situations combined for him to end up in cardiac arrest,” said Dr Rashford.
“I think our actions fell to the point where they didn’t assist with the likelihood of survival.”
King, known to community as Noomba, was 39-years-old and had pre-existing heart problems.
His partner of 17 years Regina Matheson called emergency services after she found King sniffing petrol and threatening intention to self-harm and suicide.
According to Matheson, King left their home with a “white cord you put into a power point”.
Constables Zachary Schembri and Shane Warren arrived shortly after his departure.
According to Matheson, King later returned home before leaving again for a walk.
The officers found King walking along Banfield Drive, metres from his home, and took him into custody around 1.20am.
Matheson told the inquest that she had seen lights “glaring on the road” and “him and the constable having words”.
Constable Warren told the inquest that King had tried to “king hit” Constable Schembri.
After watching King being pulled to the ground by the two officers, Matheson ran to him and she cradled his head, telling the officers about his heart condition. She then returned home for his medication.
By her return, King was unconscious and white foam was coming from his mouth. An ambulance was called to site.
“There was no CPR, no checking of vital signs,” she said.
“They just left him lying on the ground in handcuffs like a mongrel dog.”
In 2018, Stewart Levitt, the lawyer representing King’s family said King would have had a better chance of survival if Matheson “didn’t call the police”.
Levitt said Matheson and other witnesses had alleged that police repeatedly told King he was not under arrest after spear-tackling him, pushing his face into the dirt and straddling his back.
“Subjected to the very rough treatment which had been described and the shock of it all, it is quite foreseeable that a man with a pre-existing heart condition would succumb,” said Levitt.
Chistopher Gee and Allan Wallman were the two paramedics who responded to the call.
Both gave evidence at the inquest, reporting that because of King being handcuffed on the ground and the poor lighting, an effective medical assessment was not possible.
Gee told the inquest he had asked Constable Schembri to perform CPR on King once in the ambulance and guided him through the process.
When questioned as to why either paramedic did not perform CPR, Gee responded that he had “called for a backup crew and critical care paramedic that for whatever reason were not provided”.
The inquest heard that both paramedics were delayed in identifying that King was in cardiac arrest.
Questions also arose regarding the time it took for King to receive medical care.
Kate Greenwood from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (Qld) said bodycam footage saw a period of five minutes between King’s last words and paramedics noting him unresponsive.
Constable Schembri said he had not requested medical assistance for King sooner because “it wasn’t up to me to tell them how to do their job”.
“In hindsight I would have told them to do something,” he said.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental ill-health, call or visit the online resources below:
- Spartan First Suicide Prevention Crisis Line – 1800 370 747
- Lifeline – 13 11 14, lifeline.org.au
- Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636, beyondblue.org.au/forums
- MensLine – 1300 789 978
- Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
- Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
- Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet – healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au
By Rachael Knowles