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Cops’ actions probed at death in custody inquest

Shaky body-worn camera footage recorded the night an Indigenous man died in police custody in Townsville shows the last moments of his life.

Police grabbed the 39-year-old Townsville father around the neck, "wrestled" with him, pulled him to the ground and put him in handcuffs.

As he lay face down with his hands secured behind his back someone pushed his head down, slamming it into the dirt.

The man calls out that he is not OK. His laboured breathing is captured on video.

Neither the paramedics or police standing nearby check his vital signs.

Trevor King, known culturally as Noomba, was pronounced dead in hospital soon after, in the early hours of February 10, 2019.

The harrowing footage of his final moments shows his violent struggle with police abruptly switching from agitation, screaming "let me go", to an "almost docile paralysis", the lawyer representing the King family, Stewart Levitt said.

Constable Zachary Schembri (front centre) & Constable Shane Warren (back right) leave the Townsville Courthouse after giving evidence at the inquest. Pictured with Gilshenan & Luton Legal Practice lawyers and Queensland Police Union representative. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Constable Zachary Schembri (front centre) & Constable Shane Warren (back right) leave the Townsville Courthouse after giving evidence at the inquest. Pictured with Gilshenan & Luton Legal Practice lawyers and Queensland Police Union representative. Picture: Alix Sweeney

An inquest into the death began in Townsville on Tuesday asking the critical question: did the attending police officers and paramedics act appropriately in the circumstances.

Noomba's wife Regina called police concerned for his welfare because he had been sniffing petrol was talking of suicide.

Officers could not find him when they arrived, but located him walking toward his home hours later while responding to another job.

Giving evidence during the first day of the inquest Constable Zachary Schembri, who is one of the officers who restrained him, said he and his partner Constable Shane Warren detained Noomba for emergency mental health evaluation.

He said the situation escalated when the man threw a closed fist punch at Constable Schembri.

The body-cam footage, which was turned on midway through the altercation, captures Noomba fighting back, repeatedly telling police he had done nothing wrong.

Before the arrest both officers were aware Noomba had a history of heart problems and that he had not been taking his medication.

Constable Zachary Schembri leaves the Townsville Courthouse after giving evidence at the inquest into the death of Trevor King, known culturally as Noomba. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Constable Zachary Schembri leaves the Townsville Courthouse after giving evidence at the inquest into the death of Trevor King, known culturally as Noomba. Picture: Alix Sweeney

"I was telling him he was not under arrest because he was not under arrest, he was not in trouble (and) I was telling him n

ot to resist," Constable Schembri said.

In his evidence Constable Warren described the punch as a "king hit".

Mr Levitt rejected this claim, referring to interviews in the days after the death where Constable Schembri categorised the "punch" as the man forcibly raising his arm.

Also in the initial interviews, Constable Schembri said he used a controversial neck hold banned in other jurisdictions.

Constable Zachary Schembri & Constable Shane Warren (pictured) leave the Townsville Courthouse after giving evidence at an inquest. Pictured with Queensland Police Union representative. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Constable Zachary Schembri & Constable Shane Warren (pictured) leave the Townsville Courthouse after giving evidence at an inquest. Pictured with Queensland Police Union representative. Picture: Alix Sweeney

But, in court on Tuesday he walked back these claims and said he did not use the Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint, where arteries and veins in the neck are compressed.

By the time Noomba was put into the ambulance, Constable Schembri said he was drooling, limp and unconscious.

During cross examination, Mr Levitt asked the officers if they appropriately communicated to Noomba the reason for his arrest.

Constable Zachary Schembri (front) & Constable Shane Warren leave the Townsville Courthouse after giving evidence at an inquest. Pictured with Queensland Police Union representative. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Constable Zachary Schembri (front) & Constable Shane Warren leave the Townsville Courthouse after giving evidence at an inquest. Pictured with Queensland Police Union representative. Picture: Alix Sweeney

"(The legislation) says you must take reasonable steps to ensure that the person understands," he said highlighting Noomba's confusion as he was detained.

An internal police investigation in the months after the death found the actions of both officers did not breach any policies and that there was no criminal conduct.

The inquest continues.

Originally published as Cops' actions probed at death in custody inquest


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