Furious relatives of an Aboriginal man who died in a Sydney jail after being restrained by guards have blocked NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin from leaving the coroner’s court.
- The coroner’s court has rejected a call from the Dungay family that prison staff face disciplinary action
- David Dungay died at Long Bay prison hospital in December 2015 after being restrained by staff
- The deputy state coroner found that Mr Dungay died from heart failure with factors including diabetes and stress
David Dungay, a 26-year-old Dunghutti man, died at Long Bay prison hospital on December 29, 2015, as prison officers attempted to move him to another cell.
An inquest today found the corrective services officers involved in restraining him were not motivated by malicious intent but “misunderstanding”, leading to explosive reactions from family members who rejected the result.
WARNING: This story contains images of a person who has died.
As the commissioner got into his car, Mr Dungay’s nephew Paul Silva confronted him.
Other relatives then stood in front of the car on the road to prevent it from leaving, chanting “justice today for David Dungay” and “they say accident, we say murder”.
“When you close your eyes I hope you remember this face, because me and my family do,” Mr Silva said to Commissioner Severin through the car window.
“Choke on your next biscuit and cup of tea.”
The inquest was last year shown handheld camera footage of Mr Dungay being restrained face down by up to five members of the jail’s Immediate Action Team (IAT) as he yelled “I can’t breathe” several times.
He was also injected with a sedative shortly before he died.
Deputy state coroner Derek Lee found Mr Dungay died from cardiac arrhythmia, with contributing factors including his Type 1 diabetes, antipsychotic medication and extreme stress and agitation.
David Dungay’s cousin Lizzie Jarrett (left) and mother Leetona Dungay with supporters. (AAP: Peter Rae)
He rejected a submission from the Dungay family that several officers be referred for disciplinary proceedings, noting their conduct was “limited by systemic deficiencies in training”.
Mr Lee said the evidence did not rise so high as to suggest the guards’ actions were motivated by malicious intent, but “a product of their misunderstanding of information that was conveyed at the time”.
The finding drew loud expressions of disbelief from the Dungay family in the public gallery.
Staff ‘overcome by stress’
Mr Lee said the life support provided to Mr Dungay was inadequate and found the clinical staff were “overcome by the enormity and stress of the situation” as it was the first time they needed to apply their training in a real-life situation.
Mr Dungay, who was three weeks away from being released on parole, was being held in the hospital because he had been diagnosed with mental health issues.
The court heard the specialist IAT was called when he refused to stop eating biscuits and follow orders.
Mr Lee found both the decisions to call in the IAT and to move Mr Dungay to another cell were neither necessary nor appropriate.
Mr Dungay’s mother, Leetona Dungay, has repeatedly called for those involved in the incident to be held accountable for their actions.
A legal team acting on behalf of the family argued the preventable death was the result of a failed duty of care and pushed for several guards to face criminal charges.
Mr Lee’s recommendations include changes to Corrective Services training and the availability of an Aboriginal welfare officer in the mental health unit of the prison to assist in de-escalation techniques.
The inquest heard evidence that prison staff had previously had difficulties dealing with Mr Dungay, particularly with his blood sugar levels, but nurses and other inmates were able to speak with him to calm him down.
The senior corrections officer in Mr Dungay’s ward, who was given the pseudonym F, denied it was “excessive” to call in the IAT and claimed the decision was made after a nurse said the biscuits could worsen Mr Dungay’s elevated blood sugar levels.
He conceded the situation constituted neither a security nor medical emergency but denied he called the IAT against protocol.
David Dungay’s relatives confront NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin. (AAP: Peter Rae)
Commissioner Severin acknowledged “systemic issues” were identified during the inquest and the “clear failings” contributed to the death.
“We have made a lot of very comprehensive changes to procedures,” he told the ABC.
“We have learned from this particular incident very, very much.”
The changes included revisions to rules around the use of force and to officer training.
The officers involved in the incident remain on duty.
“The officers will continue to be provided with those training needs that are required for them to properly do their job,” Commissioner Severin said.
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