Alice Springs: Coroner rules that police ‘lack of care’ led to death in custody

17 September: The Northern Territory coroner has found the death of an Aboriginal man in custody was due to a lack of care by police and could have been prevented.

An inquest heard Kwementyaye Briscoe, 27, was dragged along the floor by police at the Alice Springs watch house after being taken into protective custody for being drunk in January.

Police told the inquest they did not seek medical treatment for a wound on Mr Briscoe’s head nor check on him in his cell for more than two hours.

Instead, officers were on the internet or listening to music.

Coroner Greg Cavanagh said the police errors were extensive.

“I find that the care, supervision and treatment of the deceased while being held in custody by the Northern Territory Police was completely inadequate and unsatisfactory and not sufficient to meet his medical needs,” he said.

“This lack of care resulted in his death.

“That is to say this death was preventable and it should not have occurred.”

Mr Cavanagh said the issue raised serious questions about mismanagement in the police force.

“In my view the catalogue of errors is so extensive and involves so many police officers of various rank as to suggest mismanagement for a period of time by police command at a level higher than just local.”

The coroner said other prisoners had heard “choking and gasping” coming from Mr Briscoe’s cell at 11.45pm, but their efforts to get the attention of police officers were in vain.

Mr Briscoe’s body was not discovered until 1.43am when the watch commander went to check on him.

The coroner said up to 10 officers have been formally disciplined over “errors and failures” on the night of Mr Briscoe’s death.

He noted another young Indigenous man had died in the same watch house in 2009, and the failings should have been rectified then.

“It is completely unacceptable that it took another death in custody to highlight the persistent failures,” Mr Cavanagh said.

Family members of Mr Briscoe shouted abuse at police officers as they left court.

“He was a young man, didn’t even have a wife and kids and policemen walk free,” one said.

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