Scathing report into prisoner’s death
The Department of Corrections has been told it should apologise to the family of an Aboriginal prisoner who died after a violent incident at Yatala Labour Prison.
State Ombudsman Wayne Lines found Corrections failed to identify Wayne Fella Morrison as a high-risk prisoner in the days before he suffered fatal injuries while waiting for a video link with the Elizabeth Magistrates Court.
Mr Lines also found that the information provided to Mr Morrison's family as he lay in the Royal Adelaide Hospital was insufficient and their treatment "insensitive" and "inappropriate".
Mr Morrison, 29, died after his life support was switched off a week after he was left in a coma following a confrontation with Corrections officers in September 2016.
Multiple Corrections officers were knocked unconscious in the incident and Mr Morrison, a Wiradjuri man, had a spit mask placed over his face before being carried to a prison van.
When he was lifted from the van, Mr Morrison was not breathing.
Mr Lines found that Mr Morrison should have been identified as a high-risk prisoner because of a previous aborted suicide attempt as well as the suicide of several close family members.
However, a "notification of concern", which would have resulted in him being closely monitored, was never filled out.
He was also not identified as an Aboriginal man for several days, though Mr Lines said he could not make a determination about whether it was a Corrections error or Mr Morrison did not tell officers out of fear of adverse treatment.
Mr Morrison's mental and physical health declined while he was awaiting a bail hearing.
His family raised their concerns with Corrections, but Mr Lines found that the Aboriginal Liaison Officer at Yatala had scheduled a time to see Mr Morrison that fell after the incident occurred.
Mr Morrison's mother, Caroline Andersen, and sister Latoya Rule were waiting in the Elizabeth Magistrates Court for the bail hearing when they were told he had been taken to hospital.
The family was left for several hours calling hospitals around Adelaide trying to find where Mr Morrison had been taken.
When they found out he was at the RAH they went to his ward only to be told that no one of that name was there.
Mr Lines heard during interviews conducted as part of the investigation that Mr Morrison's name had been changed because of phone calls from unidentified people to the ward asking for information on his welfare.
Mr Morrison's family was left waiting outside the hospital for more information and to be allowed to see him.
Once allowed inside to see the comatose Mr Morrison, the family were not allowed to be in the room without Corrections officers present.
The family said Corrections officers could be heard laughing while the family grieved at Mr Morrison's bed side.
Mr Lines recommended that Corrections apologise to Mr Morrison's family for the failure to identify him as high risk, as well as the lack of information once he was in hospital and the actions of officers guarding the comatose man.
Corrections chief executive David Brown was criticised for showing reluctance in accepting that communication with the family could have been better handled.
A Department of Corrections spokeswoman said that a letter of apology from Mr Brown was being prepared.
An inquest into the circumstances surrounding Mr Morrison's death is still underway though several prison officers have refused to give evidence.
Ms Andersen said it had been "an awful process" having to wait four years to start to get answers but thanked Mr Lines for his investigation.
"An apology is not enough, but it is the right thing to do," she said.
"It is the beginning of acknowledging that they had a duty to care for my son and that they did wrong to him.
"As a mum, I want to know why these guards are still working inside the prison system when there are so many unanswered questions."
Mr Morrison's sister and Aboriginal justice advocate Latoya Rule said it was disappointing that Mr Lines was excluded from investigating the physical actions of Corrections officers in restraining her brother.
"I do not accept Mr Brown's reluctance in this report to acknowledge that the Department's dealings with my family have been disrespectful," she said.
"I hope that the forthcoming apology to my family by Mr Brown and the Department will
Originally published as Scathing report into prisoner's death