‘We Were Not Granted Dignity’: Family Had to Phone Rehabilitation Services to Ask if Father Was Dead | Death in custody
The family of an aboriginal who died in a New South Wales prison say it took authorities six hours to notify them, and the news came hours after receiving a message from a relative on Facebook.
Frank “Gud” Coleman, a 43-year-old man from Ngemba, was found dead in his Long Bay cell early Thursday, July 8.
Her daughter, Lakota Coleman, and her ex-partner, Skye Hipwell, told Guardian Australia that a relative messaged them on Facebook “to say he was found unconscious” and they contacted NSW Corrections .
“We didn’t have any kind of dignity and respect there, being informed of his passing,” Hipwell said. “I then contacted Corrections to say that’s what we heard and they responded and said, ‘Oh yeah, sorry to let you know but he passed away this morning.’ It was six maids. hours later [his death]. I don’t think we were told that until lunchtime.
Corrective Services NSW said it was the role of the police to notify the next of kin of any deaths in custody.
“NSW Corrections will notify NSW Police immediately after a death in custody and provide contact information for the next of kin in our cases. In this case, the notification was delayed because the contact details provided to us were incorrect, ”a spokesperson said.
“Information regarding deaths in custody is treated with sensitivity and respect, with the utmost consideration given to relatives of the deceased. “
Police told the Guardian that “the man’s designated next of kin have been notified by NSW Police in accordance with standard operating procedures” and a report was being prepared for the coroner.
Hipwell said Coleman suffered from mental health issues, exacerbated by the shooting death of their 20-year-old son, Ricardo.
Ricardo Coleman was shot and killed on the street near his home in 2016. Three years later, his killer was convicted of manslaughter and is serving a 16-year sentence. A coronial inquest is scheduled for later this year.
“The decline in his sanity from there was pretty rapid,” Hipwell said. “It had an emotional impact on him.”
Hipwell said Frank Coleman served 18 months of a three-year sentence upon his death but had no in-person visits during that time, due to Covid restrictions. She said he was transferred to three different prisons in NSW before being sent to Long Bay.
“Obviously, remedial services have their thing for Covid, but when you’re several hours away and have to rely on public transport, how can you visit people and try to adjust to the limitations of their isolation because of the Covid?
Corrective Services NSW said there were restrictions on all in-person visits last year to keep Covid safe.
“We recognize that contact visits are extremely important for detainees and their families,” said a spokesperson. “There were restrictions on all in-person visits between March 16 and November 23 of last year, during which time we worked hard to increase inmate contact with families by phone and videoconference. “
But Hipwell said: “A six minute phone call might seem like long enough to some people, but if you have a lot of grief and trauma, which he did, how do you have those conversations in a six minute block? ? “
Coleman is the ninth Indigenous person to die in custody since March of this year, and one of at least 478 since the end of the Royal Commission on Indigenous Deaths in Custody in 1991.
“It’s not another number, it’s an individual,” said her daughter, Lakota Coleman. “We would like to be remembered as a loving and dedicated man, proud of his cultural heritage and of his children who are still there and, sadly, have passed away.
“Dad was a person who made everyone smile and laugh. Anyone who met him couldn’t leave a conversation without laughing or smiling, or being in a good mood.
From now on, the family will have to undergo two coronary inquests.
“I would never want a family to have to go through this,” Hipwell said. “I can’t even explain what it’s like to lose your child. My children must have suffered the loss of a brother, and now of their father. It was two native men in their life, in a short period of four years, who left, without any explanation for us.
“We will never get a finality with regard to the death of Ricardo, but now the impact of [Frank’s death] about my children, as well as the native men of his family and his father, is absolutely amazing.
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge said the lack of respect shown to many First Nations families after a death in custody was totally unacceptable “but it is far from being rare ”.
Shoebridge was a member of a parliamentary inquiry into the high number of First Nations people in custody, which tabled its final report in February. The committee – made up of Liberal, Labor, Green, National and Nation MPs – made 39 recommendations, to which the NSW government has until Oct. 15 to respond.
Shoebridge said a response was urgently needed.
“After so many deaths in custody this year alone, the NSW government is still not prioritizing its response to the latest call for reforms on deaths in custody,” he said. “It’s a crisis, it must be treated as a crisis, not put on the back burner for 30 years.”
New South Wales Attorney General Mark Speakman said the government was reviewing the recommendations “closely and carefully”.
The Aboriginal incarceration rate was a “national tragedy for which there is no one-size-fits-all or one-size-fits-all solution,” he said.
“I can’t begin to imagine the trauma and grief that Mr. Coleman’s family must feel after his tragic death.
“In New South Wales, Indigenous people make up about 3% of the general population, but about a quarter of the adult prison population. This – plain and simple – is a national tragedy.
“In the criminal justice system, we are implementing a series of initiatives to address this horrendous overrepresentation – including record investments to reduce recidivism and increase opportunities for community sentences. However, we can and must do better.“