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Sep 18, 2012

Aboriginal death in custody victim drank himself to death

A Coroner’s finding into the death of an Aboriginal man, Kwementyaye Briscoe in the Alice Springs watch-house indicates failure of police procedures were not only a contributing factor, but a cause. This is unreasonable, as his death was caused by the consumption of a lethal dose of alcohol. While police procedures were sloppy, they can only be blamed for failure to prevent his death, not causing it.

The family’s call for murder charges to be laid against the police though is completely out of order given the circumstances. Hopefully they will realize this as time passes:

THE family of an Aboriginal man who died in police custody in Alice Springs have accused officers of "getting away with murder" after a recommendation by the Northern Territory Coroner that no charges be laid. This is despite Coroner Greg Cavanagh yesterday finding a lack of care and multiple failings by police were the cause of the man's death on January 5.

The 27-year-old man, known since his death as Kwementyaye Briscoe, had committed no crime but was taken by patrol officers to the Alice Springs watch house for being drunk. He was to be kept overnight in protective custody.

Grief-stricken family members yesterday screamed at senior police officers, including Assistant Commissioner Mark Payne, as they left court in Alice Springs following the coroner's findings from an inquest held in June. …
Police procedures seem to have contained a litany of errors of judgment on this occasion. When taken him into custody in an extremely drunken state, the victim was able to get hold of a bottle of rum and drink it on the way. After being put in a cell, he was not checked on for a couple of hours until found dead:
The coroner said the probable cause of Mr Briscoe's death was a combination of being very drunk, positional asphyxia and aspiration, which obstructed his airways. Up to 10 police officers had been formally disciplined over errors and failures in relation to Mr Briscoe on the night he died. Constable Gareth Evans dragged Mr Briscoe into a reception area and used "undue vigour" to sling him towards a counter, but the coroner did not believe he committed any offence.

While in the back of a police van, Mr Briscoe had drunk most of a 700ml bottle of rum carried by another prisoner who had not been searched properly. That may have raised Mr Briscoe's blood alcohol to a potentially fatal level, the coroner found. At the watch-house, despite being unable to answer a single question in a risk assessment procedure, Mr Briscoe was judged "fit for custody.”

Two probationary constables on duty at the time, David O'Keefe and Janice Kershaw, came in for special criticism by the coroner. He said despite a "clear direction" from watch-house commander Sergeant Andrew Barram, Constables O'Keefe and Kershaw failed to keep Mr Briscoe under close observations. "In doing so they were utterly derelict in their duty of care to him," Mr Cavanagh said. …
Few people have much sympathy for someone in a ‘falling down drunken’ state and the police who have to deal with this frequently, may be less so. Most drunks recover after a nights sleep, and while it is not reported whether the cops knew of the additional consumption in the van at the time, but if so it would have been prudent to have him examined medically.

While not wishing to seem insensitive; it is the person who drank himself into a state of having a BAC of over 0.3; a lethal concentration, who is responsible for his death, not the police. People have to accept responsibility for their own bad decisions.

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