Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following story contains the name and image of a person who has died.
The family of an Indigenous man who died in custody are demanding accountability after an inquest found his death to be of natural causes exacerbated by “inadequate” management of his chronic asthma.
Nathan Reynolds, a 36-year-old Dunghutti and Anaiwan man, died a week before he was to be released from custody at John Morony Correctional Complex on the September 1, 2018.
Before Mr Reynolds died from what was found to have been a severe asthma attack, a nurse administered a dose of Naloxone, a drug commonly used to treat drug overdoses.
“We believe that Nathan was stereotyped as a drug user because he was in gaol, he was seen as a prisoner and not a human,” Makayla and Taleah Reynolds, sisters of the late Mr Reynolds, told the media.
On Thursday, almost two and-a-half years later, Deputy State Coroner Elizabeth Ryan handed down her findings at Lidcombe Coroner’s Court into the death of Mr Reynolds.
The questions at the heart of the inquiry were centred on what prevented prison officers promptly responding to Nathan’s medical emergency, what went wrong with the management of his chronic illness whilst in custody, and whether his death could have been prevented.
The inquiry found Nathan died of natural causes, recorded as bronchial asthma. Dr Greg King, the respiratory physician who assisted the court, did not consider the nurse’s administration of the drug Naloxone to have had a bearing on the prospects of Mr Reynolds’ survival.
However, Ms Ryan said the delay “deprived Nathan of at least some chance of surviving his acute asthma attack”.
The coroner described the response from officers as characterised by a “lack of urgency” and the length of time it took them to reach Mr Reynolds as “unreasonable”.
It took more than 20 minutes for a nurse to reach Nathan Reynolds after he called for help.
As to what went wrong with the management of Mr Reynolds’ chronic illness, Ms Ryan found the manner of death was, “contributed to by systemic deficiencies in the management of his severe asthma by Justice Health, Forensic Mental Health Network and Corrective Services NSW.”
Justice Health and Correctional Services were aware of Mr Reynolds’ chronic illness but failed to provide him with a treatment or management plan.
“Nathan is not just a statistic. It’s soul-crushing to know that he died on a prison floor of a preventable asthma attack,” said Taleah Reynolds.
Reynolds told reporters an officer, when asked if he would do anything differently on the day of her brother’s death, responded “take a sickie”.
The response from NSW Corrections, NSW Custodial Health and the officers on duty were described by the family as “disgusting” and “insensitive”.
The findings from Nathan’s death come just one month shy of the 30-year anniversary of the Royal Commission into Indigenous Deaths in Custody, and during a week in which three Indigenous inmates died in custody. More than 450 Aboriginal people have died in custody since 1991. An indigenous man’s death at a facility in Victoria on March 7 marked the third in the space of a week.
ABS shows Indigenous Australians make up 29 per cent of the national prison population despite only making up 3 per cent of the total population.
“We want no other First Nations family to endure what we have endured since Nathan’s death,” said Makayla Reynolds.
Mr Reynolds’ family and legal counsel have insisted they will not give up their fight for justice and will only be satisfied once there has been some accountability for Mr Reynolds’ death.
“There’s going to be continuous work and there’s a lot more to happen and things are going to continue to happen until deaths in custody stop, this isn’t the end of the road for us,” said Taleah Reynolds.
Main image, top. Nathan Reynold’s family address the media outside Lidcombe Coroner’s Court. (Photo: Emilia Roux)