Anger over WA death in custody verdict

Issue 

There were emotional scenes in the Perth Coroners Court on November 28 as deputy State Coroner Evelyn Vicker read her findings into the death of a 35-year-old Aboriginal man, Carl Woods, in police custody in the suburb of Parmelia on April 11 last year. Woods' relatives wept and expressed anger at Vicker's finding of accidental death.

Vicker said Woods was suffering a bout of methamphetamine- and cannabis-induced psychotic delirium. He had smashed his way into a stranger's house in a state of complete confusion. When police arrived two of them restrained him and began to push him to the floor for handcuffing. Vicker related how another officer attempted to bring his knee up to Woods' chest, but missed. Instead he smashed Woods front teeth out, complete with sections of his jaw.

Laurel Dietsch, the 58-year-old grandmother whose house Woods had entered, reported that she saw one officer beating Woods with either a baton or a police-issue torch. All four police involved denied that, though the autopsy found bruising consistent with such an instrument being used.

Two such torches were seen lying in the house after Woods' death. Vicker said one disappeared from the crime scene and has never been accounted for.

After being restrained, Woods was carried from the house, being dropped a few times on the way. Outside he was put into the back of a police wagon lying on his front. That was where he died.

Following the verdict, Marc Newhouse, from the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee, said the committee was disappointed by Vicker's findings, echoing the feelings of Woods' family.

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