Deputy State Coroner Evelyn Vicker has cleared WA Police of wrongdoing over the death of an Aboriginal man in the Kalgoorlie Police Station lock-up.
But in a separate finding, she criticised the lack of police investigation over the death of an Aboriginal elder in Laverton, saying it had “set police against police” in a town still reeling over the death of Mr Ward.
Ms Vicker handed down her findings last week into the deaths of Mr Phillips, 51, who died in custody in 2011, and Mr Harris, 73, who died after he was stranded during a hunting trip in a remote area in 2010.
The inquests into both men’s deaths were held at the Kalgoorlie Courthouse in November. The first inquest heard Mr Phillips was arrested by police on January 7, 2011, after he breached a move-on notice. He was denied bail and held in the police lock-up where he died early the next morning.
Ms Vicker found the cause of death was consistent with a seizure from alcohol withdrawal. There was some concern police had not appropriately responded when Mr Phillips told officers during his admission interview he was a “sick man”, but Ms Vicker said he did not complain of a particular symptom and showed no sign of illness inconsistent with his intoxication.
“Without knowledge of Mr Phillips’ predisposition to experience seizures as a result of alcohol withdrawal there was no way for the police to predict Mr Phillips was likely to experience a seizure, while in custody, which would result in a fatal arrhythmia and his death, ” she said. “In the circumstances of this case the supervision and treatment of Mr Phillips was entirely appropriate. I am also of the view that, as it transpired, the care of Mr Phillip’s was also adequate.”