13 February 2024

Inquest hears medical response to Kowanyama death in custody 'appropriate and adequate'

| Cape York Weekly

A coronial inquest in Cairns has been told the medical treatment provided to Kowanyama man Mr George was “appropriate and adequate”. Photo: Supplied by Mr George’s family.

The grieving sister of a 52-year-old Kowanyama man who died in police custody in 2022 says she hopes no community has to go through the pain her family has endured over the past 15 months.

The coronial inquest into the death of Mr George, whose family has requested his first name not be used for cultural reasons, reconvened in Cairns on 8 and 9 February, 2024, to consider the circumstances surrounding his death, including whether police on duty at the Kowanyama watchhouse followed Queensland Police Service (QPS) policies and procedures.

Mr George was arrested at 1:12pm on 9 November, 2022 after reports of a domestic dispute and put in a cell at the watchhouse nine minutes later.

He was left unchecked until 2:35pm, when police discovered him “unresponsive”.

Among the issues being considered by State Coroner Terry Ryan is the appropriateness of medical care administered by QPS and Kowanyama clinic staff after Mr Gorge was found unresponsive.

READ ALSO Death in custody: Officers may have breached guidelines

The inquest heard emergency doctor Dr Mark Little, who reviewed CCTV footage from Mr George’s cell, as well as statements made by police and medical staff who tried to revive the Kowanyama man, believed the medical attention provided was “appropriate and adequate”.

“I had no concerns with the medical response provided by … the police service and the health staff that responded to the collapse of Mr George,” Dr Little told the inquest.

“It is very apparent from the post-mortem performed that there was marked swelling of the neck and obstruction of the airway, meaning the most likely cause [of death] was a lack of oxygen.”

Mr George’s older sister, Gwenette George, said outside the inquest her family was still mourning the loss and wanted answers to keep other families from having to experience the same situation.

“Well, I hope it doesn’t happen again in our community, because it’s never happened in our community; it shouldn’t happen in any community,” she said.

Ms George also implored the QPS to “do the right thing” to avoid a repeat of her brother’s death.

“The police should come there [remote communities] and do their job properly, do the right thing, you know,” she said.

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