10 May 2023

Death in custody: Officers may have breached guidelines

| Matt Nicholls
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THE officers on duty at the Kowanyama Police Station when a local man died while in custody could have been in breach of operation procedures.

Last Thursday, a pre-inquest conference was held in the Cape York community where it was revealed that an Aboriginal man, named for cultural reasons as Mr George, was arrested by police on November 9 last year after reports of a domestic violence incident.

The court heard that Mr George, was arrested at around 1.12pm that day and placed in a cell at the Kowanyama watchhouse at 1.21pm. He was left unchecked until 2.35pm.

In the Queensland Police Service Operational Procedures Manual, under Chapter 16.9.5 it states: “Prisoners are to be inspected regularly at varying intervals (the intervals between inspections is to be no greater than one hour).

“Inspections are to be conducted on a basis consistent with the prisoner’s risk assessment level. A prisoner displaying suicidal tendencies is to be closely monitored until medical attention can be obtained.”

Cape York Weeklyhas chosen not to name the officers who were on duty until they have been given the chance to present their version of events.

Counsel assisting the Coroner Melia Benn told the court that CCTV footage showed Mr George, 51, engaging in an act of self-harm after removing his shirt.

“Mr George fell back onto the risen built-in concrete bed and laid there until police checked on him, approximately one hour and 14 minutes later,” she told the court.

When officers checked on Mr George, they began CPR and alerted the Kowanyama clinic.

He was unable to be revived.

Ms Benn told the court that Mr George “grew up in Kowanyama until adulthood, when he began to travel around the Cape”.

“He was well known and lived in Hope Vale, Laura, Lockhart River, Pormpuraaw and Aurukun,” she said.

The pre-inquest hearing lasted less than 20 minutes.

Mr George’s sister, Gwynette George, gave an emotional address to the court.

“Ever since he left, I haven’t been sleeping much,” she said.

“It’s affecting me so much and I miss him.

“I cry every morning; I miss having my brother around.”

There has been no date set for the continuance of the inquest.

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