• Hundreds rally against Indigenous deaths in custody. (AAP) (newzulu.com)Source: newzulu.com
Are more Indigenous people in the Northern Territory likely to die in custody as a result of controversial new paperless arrest laws?
12 Aug 2015 - 12:26 PM  UPDATED 12 Aug 2015 - 12:28 PM

An inquest is seeking to answer this question as it examines the death of Kwementyaye Langdon, as he is known for cultural reasons, who died in a Darwin watch house cell on May 21 of heart failure, three hours after he was arrested for drinking in public about 6pm.

The laws are a way to reduce red tape for officers and "to take troublemakers out of circulation", the inquest heard on Tuesday.

This is done by allowing police to arrest anyone who they believe has committed, or will commit, a crime, and holding them for four hours (longer if intoxicated) without access to a lawyer.

Demands for answers on anniversary of death in custody
Protests have been held around the country demanding an investigation into the death of Julieka Dhu and an end to Indigenous deaths in custody.

The offences people can be detained for are minor, such as swearing, creating a disturbance and drinking in public.

Peggy Dwyer, the counsel assisting the coroner, told the inquest Aboriginal people are jailed at a higher rate in the NT than anywhere else in the country, and make up the vast majority of those arrested under the new laws.

Mr Langdon travelled to Darwin from Alice Springs for treatment for a chronic severe heart condition, and while sleeping rough in the week before his death was twice picked up by police for public intoxication and taken to hospital for assessment.

A police operation was in effect at the time to reduce anti-social behaviour and liquor offences in Darwin, targeting hot spots such as the central park where Mr Langdon was arrested.

The laws are a way to reduce red tape for officers and 'to take troublemakers out of circulation'

Coroner Greg Cavanagh noted that of about a dozen pubs and bars in the Darwin central business district, almost all have dress codes that would prevent indigenous people who are sleeping rough from entering, leaving them with few options other than drinking in public.

Jonathon Hunyor, counsel appearing for Mr Langdon's family, said police guidelines state that arrest should be a last resort.

He said arresting officer Senior Constable Michael Deutrom did not consider issuing Mr Langdon with an on-the-spot infringement notice, taking him to a sobering-up shelter, calling night patrol to collect him, telling him to leave the area or asking a young man who identified himself as his son to take him home.

"I didn't think it would have been worthwhile to just issue an infringement notice," Snr Const Deutrom said.
Nurse Fiona McColl witnessed the health check Mr Langdon underwent at the watch house and said she felt he was fit to remain in custody.

"Despite being an Aboriginal man, a smoker, intoxicated, overweight, tachycardic, and saying, 'Where's my doctor?'" Mr Hunyor asked her.

"Yes," she replied. 

She said she was not focused on what he was saying when he asked to see a doctor, and that she did not know his cardiac condition was classified as severe, but did not believe he was more at risk due to being held in custody.