Teen was 'refused medical help' before death in custody

'He'd be alive if he was white'
Image source: Brisbane Times

Arthur Gorrie correctional centre

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An 18-year-old prisoner died late last month and there are claims Brisbane jail staff denied him adequate medical treatment even though he was too sick to walk.

Today's march coincides with the reopened inquest into the controversial Palm Island death in custody.

Prison chaplain Reverend Alex Gator says inmates at the Arthur Gorrie correctional centre called her with news of the latest tragedy last month.

"This young youth, only 18 years of age, he had spent five weeks on remand and then the five weeks he was at Arthur Gorrie he became ill, so he was ill for six days," she said.

"The first time he'd gone to the medical centre he was given Panadol, other times he'd gone he was told that there was nothing wrong with him. So he was repeatedly denied medical assistance.

"Towards the end the boys had to carry him, the Murri boys in his unit had to carry him, because he could hardly walk.

"They nearly caused a riot, the Murri boys. They yelled out to the officer, 'get him to the hospital' because something was wrong with him.

"And one officer made the comment, 'Well if he can go to the toilet, there's nothing wrong with him'."

Reverend Gator says the teenager was ultimately rushed to hospital and put on life support. But he died a few days later on February 20.

"I conducted a memorial service. The boys said they only saw him a couple of weeks ago talking, laughing, joking and next thing they hear this young man is dead," she said.

Reverend Gator says the teenager should never have been put in jail because he had a serious pre-existing medical condition.

"That is the question we're asking - why? Why was he in prison, not in hospital? I mean he wasn't a terrorist, a paedophile, rapist or a murderer," she said.

"He was in there for a misdemeanour. And as far as I'm concerned, it's just racial discrimination towards Aboriginal people. This is about racial hatred attitudes towards Aboriginal people.

"They're deliberately turned away and told there's nothing wrong with them. And Corrective Services have failed in their duty of care to provide a service to this young man."

'Could have been avoided'

Brisbane Indigenous community leader Sam Watson says news of the death in custody has spread like wildfire.

"We are very concerned about this because this appears to be yet another Aboriginal death in custody that could have been avoided, that should have been avoided," he said.

Queensland Corrective Services has issued a written statement saying "there are no suspicious causes" in the teenager's death.

The statement adds that all deaths in custody are referred to the coroner and to the chief inspector of prisons for investigation.

But Mr Watson says the Indigenous community is calling on the Queensland Government to instigate a full coronial inquest.

"There have to be a lot of questions answered. We want to get to the bottom of this and we want to do it very, very quickly," he said.

"We don't want this to drag on like Palm Island. The Palm Island death in custody happened six years ago. Here we are six years down the track; we still haven't received any outcomes, we still haven't received any real closure."

No one has been convicted over Cameron Doomadgee's death on Palm Island in 2004 and the circumstances surrounding his death remain shrouded in doubt.

This week the third coronial inquest into the watch house death is being heard and today Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley is expected to take the stand.

The initial inquiry found the policeman fatally wounded Mr Doomadgee but Senior Sergeant Hurley was later acquitted of manslaughter charges.

Minister promises investigation into death in custody

11th March 2010 ABC News

Staff at Brisbane's Arthur Gorrie correctional centre allege the 18-year-old Aboriginal man collapsed in his cell late last month after being refused medical help.

200 members of Queensland's Indigenous community marched on State Parliament today, enraged over the circumstances surrounding the death.

Hundreds rallied in Brisbane in 2004 over the death in custody of Cameron Doomadgee on Palm Island, and there was another rally in 2006 over the handling of the case.

An inquest has reopened into the Palm Island incident and is hearing evidence in Townsville today.

Corrective Services says the prisoner at Arthur Gorrie was found unconscious last month and taken to the Princess Alexandra Hospital, but died four days later.

Mr Roberts says staff are being interviewed and the Coroner will investigate.

"This is a tragic and sad event and our hearts go out to the family and friends of this young man," he said.

"Any death of a young person, any death in custody is something that needs to be fully investigated and that will happen."

Mr Roberts says no one wants to put a family through these situations.

"I understand their concerns - to make sure that every issue is uncovered and discovered in this investigation - and that's what will happen."

Prison chaplain Reverend Alex Gator says the teenager should never have been put in jail because he had a serious pre-existing medical condition.

Brisbane Indigenous community leader Sam Watson says the Indigenous community is calling on the Queensland Government to instigate a full coronial inquest.

Heightened tensions over Queensland deaths in custody
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Updated March 12, 2010 08:25:28

Tensions are high in the north-east Australian state of Queensland, after another death in custody of an indigenous teenager. More than a hundred people rallied outside Queensland's Parliament on Thursday after an Aboriginal prison chaplain blamed racist hatred for the death of an 18-year-old remand prisoner.
It's claimed the boy was repeatedly denied medical help before being found unconscious in his cell. The teenager's mother broke down at the protest, and later met Queensland's Prisons Minister demanding answers.

Radio Australia Transcript

Heightened tensions over Queensland deaths in custody

March 12 2010

Broadcast Audio: Listen Windows Media

Presenter: Annie Guest
Speakers: Donna Smith, mother of deceased prisoner; Reverend Alex Gater, Prison Chaplain; Nicole Clevens, Protestor; Neil Roberts, Prisons Minister; Kelvin Anderson , Corrective Services Commissioner

DONNA SMITH: He was only 18. We just want some answers, why he was left suffering for 10 days without help in the prison.


ANNIE GUEST: As supporters gathered behind her, Donna Smith, as she wants to be known, held a photo of her son in her shaking hands; one of her eight children.

DONNA SMITH: He was only a boy, only a baby (crying).

ANNIE GUEST: Her son Sheldon Currie was on remand in Brisbane's Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre for misdemeanours, including alleged car theft.

DONNA SMITH: What I heard from another inmate was that he was in pain for days and he was just given Panadol and sent away. It must have been pretty serious because he was found on his face in his cell by an inmate.

ANNIE GUEST: Do you have faith in the justice system to fairly investigate his death?

DONNA SMITH: No, I don't.

ANNIE GUEST: Why don't you have that faith in the justice system?

DONNA SMITH: Because I was treated badly at the hospital. I was sleeping on the floor in the hospital and then I was sent away from his bed the night before I lost him.

ANNIE GUEST: She says prison guards asked her to leave the bedside. Donna Smith blames negligence, not racism for her son's death.

Others disagree, including the prison chaplain, Reverend Alex Gater who aired the allegations on AM this morning, saying fellow inmates had to carry the sick teenager. She also alleged an officer said if he could go to the toilet, then there was nothing wrong with him.

ALEX GATER: This is about racial hatred, attitudes towards Aboriginal people. They're deliberately turned away and told her there's nothing wrong with him.

ANNIE GUEST: Some at today's rally outside Queensland's Parliament agree with the chaplain. As protestor Nicole Clevens addressed the gathering of more than 100 people, she directed her outrage at the unseen politicians behind Parliament's walls.

NICOLE CLEVENS: This poor young fella's dead. Every single death always gets swept under the carpet. What do we have to do to stop this? Do we have to start writing and fire-bombing this place here? Because that is a life. What value do you put on our lives?

ANNIE GUEST: But the Prisons Minister Neil Roberts says prison staff are being interviewed. He met Sheldon Currie's family to reassure them this afternoon.

NEIL ROBERTS: These are always very sad occasions and my heart just goes out to this family; they're suffering extreme sadness and grief as a result of the loss of their son and family and friend.

Queensland Corrective Services has been doing as much as possible to support the family during this difficult time and that will continue.

We've now got a difficult process to go through, particularly for the family. The coroner obviously will conduct his own investigation. In the end, and I've made this clear to the family; all of the issues, any claims, any concerns that they're raising will be on the table for investigation.

ANNIE GUEST: The Corrective Services Commissioner Kelvin Anderson has dismissed the allegations that Sheldon Currie's health was neglected, but he told The World Today the chief prisons inspector will investigate.

KELVIN ANDERSON: We responded appropriately to this man's health needs and we were very responsive to the needs of the family after this tragic event.

ANNIE GUEST: Your department issued a statement saying that there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding this death; do you stand by that?

KELVIN ANDERSON: Yes, on everything that I've seen to date, we stand by that statement.

ANNIE GUEST: Meanwhile, the simmering tension over the teenager's death comes as the police officer acquitted over a death in custody on Palm Island in 2004 takes the stand at a new coronial inquest.



First of all, my instinctive reaction to this awful news is that there is definitely discrimination going on against an Aboriginal person, which should have no place in our modern society. Donna Smith has every right to be upset and angry - more than upset and angry in fact - and I echo her sentiments. I can't imagine what she is going through - and I don't believe the Corrective Services Commissioner's claims that he was well looked after for one minute. In fact it makes me sick that this man can dare to pretend he has sympathy when it is he and his cronies who are responsible for a poor, innocent boy's death.

Those police officers who are in charge forget that they are servants of the public, not their masters. They should have responded professionally and empathetically when this boy was clearly unwell. And once again they go unpunished. Something needs to change here, as this is not the first time in Australia, let alone the world, that people die because of negligent and often malicious police officers. My thoughts are with Mrs Smith and her family, Jenny from propane fire pit

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