Indigenous prisoner restrained by 14 officers before death in custody, footage shows

Inquest shown ‘distressing’ images of Wayne Morrison, who was left unresponsive after altercation at Adelaide’s Yatala prison

Deaths Inside: every Indigenous death in custody since 2008

Shocking footage has been played to a coronial inquest of the lead-up to the death of an Indigenous man who died after being restrained while on remand in a South Australian jail.

Wayne Fella Morrison, 29, died at Royal Adelaide hospital on 26 September 2016, three days after the altercation with corrections staff at Adelaide’s Yatala prison left him braindead. At one point during the incident he was restrained by more than 14 officers.

The footage made public on Monday shows the incident leading up to Morrison’s transfer in the prison van. At one stage, more than 16 officers crowd the hallway where Morrison is being restrained, face-down. It is almost impossible to see him beneath them.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Anthony Crocker, told the court Morrison “became violent towards prison staff” and “was restrained with handcuffs, flexicuffs and a spit mask”.

Once restrained, he was carried outside and placed face-down in the rear of a prison escort van to transfer him into Yatala prison.

Eight prison staff, including the driver of the escort vehicle, accompanied Morrison on the journey in the van.

There is no footage of what happened inside the van, but Crocker told the court that “when the van arrived at G Division, Morrison was found to be blue and unresponsive”.

The journey took a little under three minutes.

“Precisely what occurred in the van is unknown as seven of the eight prison staff who accompanied Mr Morrison on the journey have declined to provide police with statements,” Crocker said.

A second lot of footage, showing resuscitation attempts, was deemed too sensitive to release.

Morrison’s sister, Latoya Aroha Rule, told Guardian Australia it was difficult to watch.

“It was distressing to witness the footage today of the final moments of my brother’s time on remand and to count the number of correctional officers involved in his restraint and in the transport van,” she said.

“It also saddens me to know that he was wearing a spithood at the time of his death – similar to that shown in the restraint of Dylan Voller in images that shocked Australia [from Don Dale prison in Darwin].”

wayne morrison

Morrison died two months after footage of Voller wearing a spithood was shown on Four Corners. Many prisons have since banned or heavily restricted their use.

“Our family has placed our trust in the coroner to ensure that there is justice in this process, that those who are responsible for Wayne’s death are held accountable, and that reforms are implemented to ensure the future safety of all prisoners,” Rule said. “My heart cries out for just one more moment with my brother.”

This was Morrison’s first time in custody. He had no recorded criminal convictions.

The inquest is set down for five weeks.

Additional reporting by Calla Wahlquist


Lorena Allam

The GuardianTramp

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