Please note, this story contains reference to someone who has died.

A report addressing the 2016 death in custody of Wayne Fella Morrison has been handed down by the South Australian Ombudsman.

Morrison died in hospital on September 26, 2016, three days after an incident at Yatala Labour Prison in northern Adelaide suburb of Northfield.

The incident saw Morrison restrained, handcuffed and made to wear a spit hood. He was then placed face-down into a prison transport van and transported from the holding cells to the high-security are­a of the prison.

Seven officers accompanied Morrison on the journey and were present when he became unresponsive.

Ombudsman Wayne Lines addressed in the report the SA Department for Correctional Services’ administrative practices before and after the incident at Yatala.

The report commented on the absence of footage of Morrison’s transportation, noting: “By transporting Mr Morrison to G Division in a van without recording capacity, the Department acted in a manner that was unreasonable”.

The Ombudsman recommended all prison vans to be fitted with video recording equipment. Failing that, he recommended handheld cameras. He also recommended all corrective officers in South Australian prisons be fitted with body cameras.

Morrison, who was a first-time prisoner, was being held in remand at the state’s highest security prison due to overcrowding. The Ombudsman acknowledged that as a first-time Aboriginal prisoner, Morrison was a person at risk and should have been identified as such by the Department during his five days in prison.

Lines said the Department failed to “appropriately identify Mr Morrison as an at risk” prisoner as well as “monitor and review his welfare accordingly”.

The Ombudsman recommended the use of an electronic warning system that identifies and flags at-risk prisoners and that the Department apologise to Morrison’s family “for its failure to facilitate the provision of appropriate information and support”.

The report was critical of the Department’s failure to maintain records in accordance with the State Records Act 1997 (SA). It was also critical of the treatment of Morrison’s family, who had restricted access to him whilst he was hospitalised, and the Department’s failure to respond to health concerns raised by his family.

Morrison’s mother, Caroline Andersen thanked the Ombudsman for examining her son’s case in a statement from the National Justice Project.

“I thank the Ombudsman for looking into Wayne’s death and understand, that with certain restrictions, he can only go so far. This has been an awful process for a mother extending over four long years, and I still have no clear answers to what happened to my son in the back of that prison van,” she said.

“With all the delays in getting to the bottom of my son’s death some changes are required to the law to ensure that parents like me get answers sooner.”

“An apology is not enough, but it is the right thing to do. It is the beginning of acknowledging that they had a duty to care for my son and that they did wrong to him. As a mum, I want to know why these guards are still working inside the prison system when there are so many unanswered questions.

“I want to know the truth and I want accountability.”

Morrison’s sister, Latoya Rule also commented.

“In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, and ongoing global protests regarding unlawful use of force in restraint processes, it is disappointing that the physical role of correctional officers in my brother’s death has been deemed outside the scope of investigation in this report,” Rule said.

“In saying that, I believe this report stands somewhat as an accountability measure of SA Corrections and its Chief Executive Mr David Brown, in the absence of transparency for my family and hence, I thank Mr Lines for his professional inquiry.

“I do not accept Mr Brown’s reluctance in this report to acknowledge that the Department’s dealings with my family have been disrespectful. I hope that the forthcoming apology to my family by Mr Brown and the Department will be genuine.”

Four years since his death, Morrison’s family is still waiting for the inquest into his death to be completed. The inquest began in 2018.

In 2019 several prison officers took legal action against the Coroner to restrict her questioning on the basis officers should be able to claim a privilege against giving evidence where they may be subject to a penalty.

The officers also argued the Coroner should not hear the inquest because of an apprehended bias.

The Coroner’s court was scheduled to begin August 3 but has been delayed due to COVID-19. The inquest will resume in 2021.

By Rachael Knowles