REPORT RELEASED: Scenes from Prince St, Coffs Harbour, where Adam Southwick was detained in September, 2013.
REPORT RELEASED: Scenes from Prince St, Coffs Harbour, where Adam Southwick was detained in September, 2013. Trevor Veale

Custody death probed by NSW Coroner

ACTIONS of NSW Police contributed to the death of a heavily drug-affected man in custody at Coffs Harbour Police Station, the NSW Coroner has found.

The inquest before Deputy State Coroner Carmel Forbes found 37-year-old Adam Southwick died of methylamphetamine intoxication, after he was placed in a police charging dock that left him struggling to move or breathe.

At 4am on September 20, 2013, emergency services were called to Prince St after residents witnessed Mr Southwick staggering and repeatedly falling over.

The inquest heard Mr Southwick, a father of two, crashed his car earlier in the morning after taking pills and threatening his ex-partner with a knife.

One witness said Mr Southwick was "barely able to walk as police assisted him to the back of the van".

Officers then called off an ambulance tasked to the scene, as they drove him to Coffs Harbour Police Station.

CCTV footage from the station's garage showed Mr Southwick remained unattended in the van for seven minutes, before being dragged to the ground and along corridors to the charge room.

At 5.15am, he was placed into the cramped dock and three minutes later was observed to have "stopped moving" by five officers in the room.

The officers then dragged Mr Southwick out of the dock, removed his handcuffs and administered CPR until an ambulance arrived.

Despite efforts of paramedics, he was unable to be resuscitated and was taken to Coffs Harbour Health Campus where he was confirmed dead at 6.10am.

In her findings, Ms Forbes concluded Mr Southwick died of methylamphetamine intoxication in a confined space, and positional asphyxia "could not be excluded as a major contributory factor".

The inquest was also told police failed to follow policy and that "it should have been clear on Prince St that Mr Southwick was in need of medical assistance".

Proceedings focussed on how the ambulance was arranged, with the five officers not agreeing on the circumstances.

Ms Forbes said the police report of death had also contained several "inaccurate and apparent self-serving statements".

Recommendations have been directed to the NSW Minister for Police including a review of policies for ill or intoxicated detainees.



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