Police 'too busy' on night Aboriginal woman died in cell

Two Broome policemen were found to have breached welfare check requirements on an Aboriginal woman who was arrested for street drinking and found dead in her cell hours later.

During day two of an inquest into the death in custody of Ms Mandijarra, who cannot be named in full for cultural reasons, it was revealed former shift supervisors Troy Kendall and Dan Coleman were issued with managerial notices for failing to comply with local police policy guidelines on cell check procedures.

The inquest told there had been no dedicated lock-up keeper on the night and staffing and a lack of resources had been an issue.

Ms Mandijarra was arrested after police spotted her drinking with a group of women and arguing on Male Oval on November 29, 2012

She was suspected of being intoxicated and was taken to Broome police station.

Ms Mandijarra was found unresponsive in her cell about 4.29am the next day when Senior Constable Dan Coleman went to release her on bail.

CPR was administered and an ambulance was called but Ms Mandijarra was pronounced dead at 4.55am.

A post-mortem examination found no obvious cause of death but forensic pathologists indicated a possible cause of Ms Mandijarra’s death was a septicaemia infection.

Mr Kendall had been on duty as the shift supervisor that afternoon before Mr Coleman took over the role around 10pm.

Mr Kendall said he believed detaining Ms Mandijarra in police custody was the safest place for her in her intoxicated state where she was not a danger to herself or others. He said he thought she had been banned from the sobering up shelter at the time.

He said Ms Mandijarra was argumentative at the time of her arrest but there had been nothing to suggest she was unwell.

He could not recall whether he knew she had diabetes at the time.

He told the inquest he had carried out remote cell checks using CCTV cameras because he had been “too busy” with other things going on at the station.

According to local protocol regarding the Broome lock-up, police are required to check on prisoners every 15 minutes in the first two hours and every half hour thereafter.

When asked whether it was possible to comply with local policy requirements on the night of the incident, Mr Kendall said it was “possible but difficult” and said he was carrying out checks based on instructions he had been given.

Mr Kendall said Broome police station was the busiest he had served at in his 20-year career. He also said Broome was a “very violent town” and officers were regularly assaulted.

The inquest was told the police station sometimes operated with just two staff during night shifts, and they had to juggle multiple tasks including answering phones, carrying out cell checks, manning the front counter and dispatching jobs for other police stations in the Kimberley.

Later in the day, Dr Sandra Thompson from the WA Centre for Rural Health told the inquest a cell was not the right place for Ms Mandijarra, and that the outcome “could have been better”.

Counsel acting for Ms Madijarra’s sister, Paul Gazia, asked if she thought a nurse stationed at WA police stations could prevent cell deaths in the future.

“That is a band-aid fix. I would much prefer to be supporting her in the community rather than that solution,” she said.

Broome Police Station Officer-in-Charge Senior Sergeant Jason Van Der Ende said at the time he authorised a zero tolerance policy for officers to target alcohol related crime.

“I did not just want them driving by and doing nothing,” he said while giving evidence.

The inquest continues.

From The West Australian.