WA inquest shown police restraint footage

·3-min read

An inquest has been shown confronting footage of police restraining an Indigenous man who died after being tasered outside an Officeworks store in Perth.

Family members cried in distress and left the room as the Perth Coroner's Court was on Tuesday shown the confrontation between police and 39-year-old Mr Riley, whose first name is not being used for cultural reasons.

Counsel assisting the coroner Rachel Collins said two police officers had attended the Officeworks store in East Perth in May 2017 in response to unrelated reports of a robbery.

They were alerted to Mr Riley, who was seen rocking from side to side and slapping his forehead.

Mr Riley had a history of drug-induced psychosis and his family had been concerned about his welfare.

The officers approached the father of six and called triple-zero to request an ambulance when he did not engage with them.

Ms Collins said Mr Riley had then advanced on police and shouted "I'm going to kill you", prompting Constable Rory Winterburn to discharge his Taser.

They attempted to restrain the prone man as he struggled.

"During this resistance, Mr Riley made repeated and continuous attempts to take possession of Constable (James) Wolfe's firearm and bit down hard on Constable Wolfe's arm causing it to bleed heavily," Ms Collins told the inquest.

Several other officers arrived to help restrain Mr Riley.

Ms Collins said Const Winterburn's Taser was trigger-activated 10 times in less than two minutes just prior to and during the struggle.

Footage shot by witnesses showed Mr Riley wailing as he was held down for seven minutes before an ambulance arrived.

Attempts were made to resuscitate him at the scene before he was taken to Royal Perth Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

A pathologist found the cause of death was consistent with cardiac arrhythmia "following violent exertion necessitating physical restraint in a man with methylamphetamine effect, known systemic hypertension and morbid obesity".

Mr Riley had previously been convicted of assaulting a police officer and ambulance officer.

One witness helped to restrain Mr Riley after being asked to do so by one of the initial two officers.

John Barber told the inquest he sat on Mr Riley's legs until further officers arrived, adding that he felt police had been focused on de-escalating the conflict.

He said he had seen Mr Riley's fingers reaching for an officer's gun.

The inquest also heard from WA Police Detective Sergeant Brett Fowler, who authored an internal major crime report into the death of Mr Riley.

The report concluded there was no criminal conduct by any officers.

Mr Riley had been stopped by police in East Perth the night before his death after being seen driving erratically.

He was not placed under arrest but was put in handcuffs and taken to the Perth Watch House for a drug test.

Officers told Mr Riley he was free to go and gave him a lift to Royal Perth Hospital but he left before being seen by a doctor.

The following morning he was seen by cleaning staff outside the hospital yelling "cops are after me, why are they after me?".

Mr Riley's mother Margaret Ugle arrived at the Central Law Courts building holding a sign that read "I Can't Breathe! BLM", in reference to the death of African-American man George Floyd in police custody in the United States.

The court has declined to release the footage of Mr Riley being detained.

"People need to see it," Mr Riley's sister Cassandra Riley told AAP outside court.

"Someone has to be held responsible for my brother's death."

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services executive officer Hannah McGlade called for an independent investigation into the conduct of police who interacted with Mr Riley.

"It's shocking that the level of police force used was justified in the court today," Dr McGlade told AAP.

The inquest continues.