Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Qld. cops kill another black -- big coverup underway
"Restraint asphyxia" means that someone was sitting on him so heavily that he couldn't breathe. And that was what happened according to the pathologist. So the police claim that they were sitting only on his limbs is an absurd lie
Sad as the death is, however, the coverup is even more alarming. It indicates a completely corrupt police culture that could easily victimize others
An Aboriginal man who was physically restrained and handcuffed after he sought treatment for mental illness suffered asphyxia, an autopsy has found.
The man was physically restrained by hospital security staff in Townsville and handcuffed by police.
But a separate police report details how detectives have so far failed to interview the six to eight security officers and orderlies who seized an agitated Lyji Vaggs, 27, and held him face-down before he suffered respiratory failure and irreversible brain damage.
"Restraint asphyxia" contributed to Vaggs's death at Townsville Hospital in April, but the pathologist who performed the post-mortem examination on his body says asphyxia may not in itself have killed him.
Despite the uncertainty, Queensland Health "had not yet provided any further information with respect to the actions of staff relating to the deceased's assessment, transport and the period of detention prior to police arrival" at the mental health unit of Townsville Hospital, the police report to the state coroner states.
Security footage of the confrontation involving Vaggs, hospital staff and security officers on April 13 either did not exist or could not be found, The Australian has been told.
The revelations will deepen outrage at his treatment at the hospital from Vaggs's family and the Aboriginal community in Townsville, and invoke comparisons with the botched handling by Queensland police of the 2004 death in custody of another indigenous man, Mulrunji Doomadgee, on nearby Palm Island.
A spokesman for the police service declined to comment last night, saying the Vaggs case was now before the coroner.
The autopsy report for the coroner, prepared by Cairns-based forensic pathologist Paul Botterill, found that Vaggs died of the combined effects of "restraint asphyxia", obesity, schizophrenia and an aberrant coronary condition.
Dr Botterill reported he had been told Vaggs had been restrained by six to eight hospital staff, who maintained pressure on his limbs but "apparently not directly on him". This happened after he went to the hospital seeking help, and turned on medical staff. "He was observed to be still resisting, trying to get up," Dr Botterill reported.
"Hospital staff allegedly requested the use of handcuffs and police applied these, with the decedent's wrists situated behind his back.
"Police say that they remained at the upper torso, holding on the handcuffed arms and each placing a knee on the decedent's arms. One of the security officers was then alleged to have restrained the decedent's legs by crossing them and folding them upwards.
"The decedent was said to have continued to struggle, with his speech becoming irrational." The autopsy report notes that Vaggs sang Happy Birthday and asserted he was a woman.
He was then injected in the buttocks with an a psychotic medication, olanzapine. He continued to struggle, and may have been given further injections, at which time he was observed to go "limp and lifeless". He died on April 15 after life support was turned off.
The chief investigating police officer, Inspector Roger Lowe, said in his report to the Coroner that police had interviewed no hospital staff apart from the doctor who administered the sedative, Mushtaq Mohiuddin, due to "privacy reasons". [Deaths are not investigated for "privacy reasons"????] Others on duty at the time, or involved in the incident, were "unavailable to be spoken to" by police investigators, Inspector Lowe said. [Next time I kill someone I guess that I should make myself "unavailable to be spoken to" as well]
Queensland Health acting district solicitor Shiloh Smith had advised the police that "statements for staff involved in the incident were to be provided through Queensland Health solicitors", the policeman said.
Vaggs's aunt and family spokeswoman Gracelyn Smallwood, an associate professor of nursing, said she was concerned the investigation to date had not been thorough.
"When I heard of Lyji's death, the first thing I did was pray to God that nothing was covered up because the last thing we need here is another Palm Island," she said.
"We didn't want key witnesses not interviewed, or security videos suddenly not being available -- and what do we get. It is just so disappointing for Aboriginal people seeking justice and answers that this is the result we get all the time.
In his report to the Coroner, Inspector Lowe wrote that Vaggs was a patient well known to the hospital who suffered from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. He tried to be admitted to the hospital on April 13 as he was "hearing voices". Other sources told The Australian that the voices were telling him to "kill somebody", so he went to the hospital seeking admission and medical help.
Vaggs rang the Mental Health Community Assessment Team and they sent a car for him. On arrival at the hospital, he allegedly struck a medical student from the unit, and the duress alarm was sounded, with hospital security staff responding, and police asked to attend.
"Four constables arrived at the Mental Health Unit at 1531 hours and they observed the deceased face-down on the floor and being physically held down by his limbs by between six to eight hospital staff, including security personnel," Inspector Lowe wrote.
"The deceased was observed to be struggling and resisting hospital staff attempting to get up whilst staff held on to him. Police observed the deceased to be a very large man and had concerns for safety of all persons involved."
Vaggs' funeral service will be held at the Assembly of God Church, Ayr, at 10am on August 20.
It sounds like the hospital staff were handling the man correctly but when the police arrived they went in hard