Please note: This story contains reference to someone who has died.

 

A 43-year-old Aboriginal man died in custody at Long Bay Correctional Complex on Thursday.

Ngemba man Frank “Gud”’ Coleman was found unresponsive in his cell on Thursday morning. The cause of his death is unknown.

Coleman’s family is being supported by the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT, who are demanding answers about the circumstances of his death.

“Frank was healthy. His death came as a complete shock to us,” said Skye Hipwell, Coleman’s ex-partner and the mother of three of his children.

Frank Coleman in his “younger years.” This photo has been supplied and approved for use by the family. Photo supplied by ALS NSW/ACT.

Coleman’s daughter Lakota Coleman said the coroner has contacted the family, however, is not able to determine a time frame for an autopsy.

“To date there has been no determination of cause of death and we are still left without answers,” she said.

The family are pushing for an autopsy to be performed and a coronial inquest to be scheduled as soon as possible, fearing they will be waiting over two years for answers.

“There’s no finality, it just goes on and on and on. The thought of having to wait years for an answer about why he died and the cause is really distressing,” said Hipwell.

Due to COVID-19 public health orders, Coleman’s family struggled to visit him before his death.

“COVID restrictions impacted our ability to visit and Frank was moved around a lot between prisons. There were quarantine periods whenever he was moved. At times he was several hours’ drive from Sydney,” Hipwell said.

“We understand he didn’t have any visitors for several months and that’s an agonising period of time to go without any physical contact with your siblings, your parents, your children.”

Hipwell said her ex-partner had always expressed the sentiment that he was “not a free man”.

“Frank always said he was not a free man, he was living under a white man’s law, and it breaks my heart that he died not a free man,” she said.

“He died alone in a jail cell and no one knows anything about his last minutes.”

ALS NSW/ACT CEO Karly Warner said the trauma of losing a loved one in custody is something that stays with families and communities.

“Each time an Aboriginal person dies in custody, the lives of their family members and entire communities are changed forever. The trauma is something they carry every day,” she said.

“It’s devastating beyond measure to have this conversation with yet another Aboriginal family whose loved one has died alone behind bars.”

Born in Brewarrina and raised in Mt Druitt in Western Sydney, Coleman is one of over 478 Aboriginal people to die in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

“Earlier this year Australia marked the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody,” said Warner.

“Yet Federal and State Governments refuse to conclude the Royal Commission’s unfinished business. Life-saving recommendations remain on the shelf while people like Frank suffer lonely and preventable deaths.”

Coleman will be deeply missed by his family, remembered as “extremely outgoing and friendly” and the type of man who would “talk to anyone”.

“He was extremely staunch and proud in his Aboriginality, his culture and community. He absolutely loved and adored his children,” said Hipwell.

“One of his biggest wishes was to be reunited with his eldest son Ricardo, who was killed four years ago.”

“Dad’s a person that definitely put a smile on everyone’s face. I don’t think there’s a single person who knows him who hasn’t been affected by his smile or laugh,” said Lakota Coleman.

By Rachael Knowles