Inquest into death in police custody hears Noongar man say ‘I can’t breathe’ as he is restrained

The family of Noongar man Roderick Narrier, who died in police custody in 2019, say he can be heard saying ‘I can’t breathe’ on audio played during the coroner’s inquest into his death .

The audio recording was played earlier this week during the inquest at WA Coroner’s Court.

Mr Narrier was restrained after officers attended an alleged incident of domestic violence at a residence in Kewdale, Perth, in the early hours of October 27, 2019.

At the time, WA Police said Mr Narrier ‘behaved erratically and aggressively’.

“Police successfully restrained him and, due to concerns about his behavior, (St. John Ambulance) was subsequently contacted to come forward,” the statement said.

Mr Narrier lost consciousness while being treated by paramedics, then stabilized after police and paramedics performed CPR.

He was taken to Royal Perth Hospital and died on October 30, 2019 after being in a coma for three days.

Mr Narrier’s daughter, Leshanti Narrier, said in court on Wednesday that her father looked calm in an audio recording, despite police claims that he had to be restrained in a prone position due to signs that he suffered from excited delirium.

“I can tell my father’s voice from a mile away,” she said.

“I know when my dad is angry and when he’s calm, and he was calm.

“He said ‘I can’t breathe’, he was just trying to tell them.”

Ms Narrier was joined in the inquest by her mother, two brothers, aunt and paternal grandfather, Roderick Narrier Snr, who said her son’s voice was not intense on the recording.

“There’s no way he’s fighting them,” Mr Narrier Snr said.

“It was really very hard to take, for the whole family.

“We hope that this investigation will see the police agree that what they have done is wrong.”

Mr Narrier said two police officers had already apologized to the family.

WA Police capacity adviser Chris Markham told the court on Wednesday he would wait for the audio recording to be improved before commenting on what was said.

Mr Narrier, 39, was handcuffed and pinned down by officers for an extended period.

Mr Markham said ‘miscommunication or misinterpretation’ when calling for medical assistance could have resulted in the ambulance arriving late at the scene.

“Ideally (the officer calling the ambulance) would have said it was a case of excited delirium and a priority,” he said.

“That information would have helped… it seems there was either miscommunication or misinterpretation.”

Alice Barter, chief counsel for the Civil Law Indigenous Legal Service’s human rights unit, said the excited delirium and asphyxia training included slides urging officers to give all relevant information to paramedics present.

Mr Markham confirmed this was now part of police training, but was not at the time of Mr Narrier’s death.

He said Mr Narrier was handcuffed and restrained in the prone position while police waited for the ambulance to prevent him from “injuring himself or others” as communicating verbally with him did not deescalate the situation, which he attributed to excited delirium.

Mr Markham agreed with barrister Anthony Crocker, who appeared remotely, that once a person in the prone position has been restrained it is good practice to remove that person from the prone position in the manner safest and fastest possible.

Coroner Philip Urquhart is presiding over the inquest, which began Monday and will end Thursday.

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