ALICE SPRINGS: An inquest into the death of an Aboriginal man in police custody has heard that one officer listened to his iPod and surfed the internet while prisoners who were worried about the man tried to get his attention.
The inquest into the death of Kwementyaye Briscoe in the Alice Springs watch house on January 4 heard yesterday from Probationary Constable David O’Keefe, who said he felt totally responsible for the death.
Const O’Keefe, 28, admitted in court that despite being told earlier in the night by Acting Sergeant Andrew Barram to make regular observations of Mr Briscoe, who had a bleeding eye and was extremely drunk when he entered the watch house about 9.30pm (CST), he didn’t do a single check from 11pm, when he came on duty.
The death was discovered at 1.42am (CST) by Acting Sgt Barram, who had returned to the watch house about 10 minutes earlier.
While on duty, Const O’Keefe spent some of the time surfing the internet and using his iPod, he admitted in court, and was derelict in his duties.
During the time he was in charge of the prisoners at the watch house on the night Mr Briscoe died, Const O’Keefe agreed he ignored several attempts by prisoners to contact him though a buzzer.
In earlier evidence it emerged that those prisoners in a cell near the dying man tried in vain to reach the constable to alert him to the deteriorating state of Mr Briscoe.
“I was distracted by other things. I was lazy I guess. I was tired,” Const O’Keefe said.
“If I had been doing my job properly this would have been avoided.”
A door between the cells and the reception area, where Const O’Keefe was seated, had been closed, making it impossible for prisoners to contact police in any way other than by using the buzzer.
Under questioning from counsel assisting the coroner, Peggy Dwyer, Const O’Keefe also admitted that when he called for an ambulance for urgent help, he told ambulance officers he had done regular checks of Mr Briscoe when in fact he hadn’t.
“It was a moment of pressure. It was a crisis,” Const O’Keefe said.
“I don’t know why I lied.”
He also admitted lying to Acting Sgt Barram, by telling him he had been making regular checks of Mr Briscoe.
Const O’Keefe apologised to the family of Mr Briscoe, many of whom attended the court hearing.
Probationary Constable Janice Kershaw, who was also on duty on the night Mr Briscoe died, agreed with Coroner Greg Cavanagh that she had been completely derelict in her duty of care to Mr Briscoe.
She said that despite being told to undertake close observations of Mr Briscoe she hadn’t done that, and had forgotten parts of the Custody Manual she had learned in her training about a year earlier.
“I should have gone down there and I should have checked him more,” she said.
When the buzzer went off from prisoners seeking medical help for Mr Briscoe, Ms Kershaw was present, but was dealing with another detainee and did not respond to the call.
“I was complacent on that night and I sincerely apologise,” she said.
The inquest also heard from Superintendent Delcene Jones, who in 2011 had recommended changes to the way the police watch house in Alice Springs was run.
She told the court she believed the watch house often lacked experienced staff and that five permanent auxiliary officers should be located there.
“My recommendations have been met with dumb insolence to outright refusal to roster watch house staff on a more permanent basis,” Supt Jones said in a statement tendered to the court.