Mother of Aboriginal man Wayne Fella Morrison pleads for answers five years after his death in custody

Caroline Andersen says the time taken just to establish a basic set of facts around her son’s death has left her unable to mourn

The mother of Wayne Fella Morrison says little has changed in the five years since her son’s death in custody and that the wait for answers has left her in limbo.

Speaking to the Guardian, Caroline Andersen said the half-decade just to establish a basic set of facts around her son’s death has left her unable to mourn his loss.

“Every day we go without answers is another day I can’t mourn for my son. Five years is too long. We still haven’t heard anything from the officers in that van,” Andersen said.

Morrison, a 29-year-old Wiradjuri, Kokatha and Wirangu man, died on 26 September 2016 at the Royal Adelaide hospital (RAH).

He had no criminal convictions and was being held on remand pending an appearance by video link in the Elizabeth magistrates court.

“The cost of justice is just too high and we’re getting nothing for it,” Andersen said. “We are paying the price every day. I see it in how the rest of our family suffers.

“We heard that officers haven’t even read the ombudsman report that demanded an apology be given to us and that they change how they operate and investigate.”

“And they still haven’t been trained on spit hoods, except to tell them what one is. We just had the anniversary of the royal commission, which still hasn’t been implemented.”

On Wednesday the court heard from prison guard Kym Golding, who was responsible for admitting Morrison to the prison, about the training he underwent to perform the process.

Asked about why he had not correctly identified Morrison as an “at risk” prisoner and issued a notice of concern (NOC), Golding explained that he had appeared fine when they spoke and he had asked to be placed with his brother.

“He wanted to go be with his brother and his cousins, which a lot of them like to do,” Golding said.

Golding was also responsible for handling admissions for another prisoner, a non-Indigenous man, who died in custody 14 months after Morrison.

While the coroner was due to also hear from another prison guard, Jason Kent, he was not called and hearings were adjourned until Thursday morning.

The coronial inquest into the death in custody of Morrison resumed on Tuesday following a two-year delay prompted when prison staff attempted to have the coroner removed from proceedings.

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A report form the South Australian ombudsman in August 2020 made 17 recommendations after finding the corrections department failed to properly identify Morrison as an “at risk” Indigenous prisoner and denied his family a chance to say goodbye.

At the time of the incident, Morrison was admitted to the RAH under the name “Ben Waters” after his family made repeated efforts to learn where he was and his status.

The ombudsman, Wayne Lines, said he was “appalled” at the family’s treatment and recommended the department apologise for the failure to identify Morrison as an “at risk” prisoner.

“In my view, Mr Morrison’s family were not treated with the openness, frankness and sensitivity that they deserved,” Lines said.

“It is not at all surprising that Mr Morrison’s family appeared to regard the department’s actions with suspicion. The department’s actions did not instil confidence or trust in its dealing with Aboriginal prisoners in custody.”

There have been seven Indigenous deaths in custody in the past two months, with two additional deaths recorded just this week.

Contributor

Royce Kurmelovs

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