The South Australian coroner has heard evidence that corrections officers who were transferring Wayne Fella Morrison in a prison van were in a position that blocked CCTV and would have been physically restraining him before he became unconscious.
Morrison was unable to be revived and died in hospital three days later. What happened in the back of the van during the 125-second transit has been a critical question of the inquiry to date with prison guards refusing to voluntarily answer questions about what took place.
The Department of Correctional Services official Keith Timmins gave evidence on Tuesday about the physical dimensions of the prison transport van that was used in the transit to Yatala Labour Prison’s high-security G-division.
Timmins had no involvement with the restraint of Morrison, but as a former correctional officer who moved to work in head office in 2012 he was asked to give evidence based on his prior experience with the van’s fitout and operation.
Though there were seven individuals in the vehicle, only five were in the back of the van with Morrison – who had been restrained by the arms and wrists, placed in a spithood and positioned face-down on the floor in the back of the van.
The five guards present in the back with Morrison included Trent Hall, Darren Shillabeer, Liam Mail, Martin Crowe and Jean-Guy Townsend.
Timmins told the coroner the van had been fitted out with four cameras, three in the roof and one in a central console.
When asked a series of questions by lawyers for Morrison’s family about the positions of individuals within the van and what may have been visible to them, the coroner heard that the CCTV video recorded that day had been obscured by the head of prison officer Trent Hall.
This led to a series of questions about how Hall would have been positioned to block the camera.
Timmins confirmed that, based on his prior experience as a corrections officer and his familiarity with the van, the lack of video footage could have been explained if Hall had been standing over Morrison while in the back of the van.
“If they were transporting Mr Morrison he would have been classed as a non-compliant prisoner. In which case, they would not have been sitting, they would have been actively holding Mr Morrison down,” Timmins said.
Lawyers for the family and the coroner then sought to clarify Timmins’ statement further. In a question by the coroner, Timmins was asked whether his evidence was that the prisoner officers would have had their hands directly on Morrison.
Timmins confirmed this, explaining that once he had been tagged as a non-compliant prisoner, the officers who were present in the back of the prisoner transport van would have been in physical contact with Morrison during the transit.
“In my experience, all officers in the rear compartment would have been hands-on,” Timmins said.
Timmins’ evidence followed that of Don Muller, who conducted an internal investigation for the department following Morrison’s death and who interviewed all the officers involved.
The coroner has previously heard how the van used in transport, the holding cells and the garage where Morrison was unloaded at G-division were not secured after he was rushed to hospital but quickly put back into use.
Muller was asked about his expectations for the handling of potential crime scenes.
“I would have expected the van to be secured, the sally port to be secured and the holding cells to be secured,” Muller said.
The coroner was expected to hear from Derek Kay, the driver of the van, this afternoon.
Morrison – a 29-year-old Wiradjuri, Kokatha and Wirangu man – had not been convicted of any crime and was being held on remand at the time of his death.