Ombudsman appalled by treatment of Wayne Fella Morrison’s family

September 17, 2020
Sydney rally against Black Deaths in Custody. Photo: Sydney Criminal Lawyers

Almost four years after Wiradjuri, Kookatha and Wirangu father-of-one Wayne “Fella” Morrison’s life-support was turned off, South Australian Ombudsman Wayne Lines has urged the corrective services department to apologise to his family.

Wayne died in Royal Adelaide Hospital on September 26, 2016, three days after being pulled unconscious from a prison van.

“Mr Morrison’s family should never have been put in the situation that they were put in,” Lines said. His 111-page report, released on September 9, also urged the SA government to mandate the use of body-worn video cameras for prison officers and their use in vans.

It said Aboriginal prisoners needed to be identified as early as possible and that corrective services needed to develop a procedure to deal with the next-of-kin of prisoners who are critically injured or die in custody.

It also reminded department staff to treat family members with respect and sensitivity.

Wayne did not receive any such treatment. Fourteen prison guards were involved in restraining him while they forced handcuffs, ankle cuffs and a spit hood on to him.

While this was Wayne’s first arrest, he was nevertheless placed in the state’s high security Yatala Labour Prison.

This is the third investigation into his death in custody. Wayne’s mother Caroline Andersen and sister Latoya Rule have suffered through an unfinished two-and-a-half month-long coronial inquest, a SA government inquiry and, now, giving evidence to the Ombudsman’s inquiry.

The inquiry’s scope was limited in that it did not investigate what happened immediately preceding the young man’s death, only the failings in the Corrective Services department.

While Andersen thanked the Ombudsman for the report, she noted that the family had had to “wait for four years for an apology”.

“That is the fact”, she told Green Left. “The night before the Ombudsman report release, the Minister of Police, Emergency Services and Correctional Services Vincent Tarzia sent through a letter of apology to the Ombudsman, who then sent it to my lawyer George Newhouse.

 “This was a start, and the right thing to do. But more needs to be done. We need to change more in this system.”

She said the corrective services minister could have issued us an apology a long time before this but that it was “another example of him saying you are under our control”. 

She also said that the minister had recognised the family’s complaint against a female correctional officer who was in the hospital waiting with Wayne. “This officer was violent towards my kids. We could have charged her with assault but, in our grief, we didn’t think about it. The corrective services minister letter said he was going to address it, but later.”

If the SA Ombudsman’s scope had not been so confined, Lines could have referred to the half-finished coronial inquest findings into Wayne’s death, Andersen said. Expert testimony from that showed that his death was caused by “psychological and physical stress, restraint asphyxia and positional asphyxia in respect to how he was transported and asphyxia related to the spit mask”.

Anderson said that the Ombudsman should have referred to the half-finished coronial inquest findings into Wayne’s death. Experts said his death was caused by “psychological and physical stress, restraint asphyxia, positional asphyxia in respect to how he was transported and asphyxia related to the spit mask”.

The use of spit-hoods on prisoners is illegal in every state except SA. When it was discovered that they were being used in the Northern Territory’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, it sparked the 2016 royal commission into juvenile detention.

Lines said last September he supported outlawing the use of spit-hoods on youth detainees. The SA government promised then to enforce that recommendation by this September. It has said nothing about their use in adult prisons.

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