The family of an Aboriginal mother who died in hospital after losing consciousness while restrained by police officers in Perth in 2019 will pursue civil action after the Coroner’s Court failed to deliver accountability for her death.
Ms Wynne, 26, died at Royal Perth Hospital several days after being arrested when she fled an ambulance where paramedics were treating her for self-harm.
The Coroner found a police officer maintained his leg hold across Ms Wynne’s upper back for longer than was necessary, and that police failed to adequately monitor Ms Wynne’s breathing whilst restrained.
Ms Wynne’s grandmother Jennifer Clayton, whose son Warren Cooper also died in police custody aged 26, spoke with family and supporters in Belmont on Wednesday.
“We will take civil action. We want an apology from WA Police, and accountability for the way my granddaughter was treated,” she said.
“We are heart-broken to hear about failure after failure and the lead up to our granddaughter’s death.
“She just needed help.”
Ms Clayton said her granddaughter was confused and distraught at the time of the incident because her baby had been taken from her by the Department of Child Protection.
She said CCTV footage contradicted claims made by the four police officers there was no delay in allowing Ms Wynne to stand up.
Human rights campaigner Gerry Georgatos said the death of Ms Wynne was a result of racial profiling.
“We can’t get away from the fact… it was an unlawful detainment born of racial profiling. She should still be here with us today,” he said.
The Coroner’s Court report released Wednesday morning found Ms Wynne’s death was accidental, adding she had experienced a cardiac arrest caused by methylamphetamine intoxication, physical exertion and her restraint by police.
Coroner Philip Urquhart made no finding of fault against police involved, but said her prolonged restraint was unnecessary.
Mr Urquhart recommended improved training for police in the use of the prone position as a restraint.
Ms Clayton said the findings gave her family little hope things would ever change.
“Stronger findings and recommendations would have helped with some kind of closure,” she said.
“We agree with the court’s criticism of WA Police and WA Health… but is it little comfort and has made little difference for Aboriginal people. We would appreciate a formal apology.”
Ms Clayton’s sister Barbara Stoeckel-Clayton said it was painful trying to help Ms Wynne’s daughter understand where her mum was.
“We find it really hard to explain to her where her mummy is when she looks at photos… to find answers for her is heart-wrenching,” she said.
“Nobody knows what is it like to tell a four year old girl that she will never see her mummy again.
“Somebody needs to be accountable for this death.”
The family want to see police removed as first responders in mental health situations, cultural change in the WA police force, an apology and an independent investigation.
Ms Clayton said the incident had shot her faith in police.
“I used to tell my kids not all police are bad… now I tell them don’t give a police officer an excuse to arrest you because you might be the next one to lose your life,” she said.