Nathan Reynolds, a 36-year-old Aboriginal man from Rooty Hill, Western Sydney, died in custody in the Outer Metropolitan Multi-Purpose Correctional Centre, a minimum security prison in South Windsor, NSW just after midnight on Saturday, 1 September.
Inmates at the centre, who wish to remain anonymous to ensure they are not victimised, say that Nathan died following a severe asthma attack.
They claim Nathan himself, and then fellow inmates, desperately called for help on the prison intercom system during his asthma attack, but they say it took between 20-40 minutes for prison guards to respond.
“We are angry and totally in disbelief that we have lost Nathan."
When the guards did arrive, an inmate recounted that they insisted Nathan would be fine. It did not appear to him that prison staff treated the incident as a medical emergency.
Some inmates attempted to administer First Aid themselves, placing Nathan in the 'recovery position' on his side and trying to assist him to breathe. They say that instead of calling for medical assistance at the scene, the guards attempted to place Nathan in a wheelchair to take him to the clinic, efforts which had to be abandoned because he could not breathe. All inmates were removed from the scene by guards when a nurse finally arrived who was without appropriate equipment to deal with an asthma attack. They later found out Nathan had passed away.
Inmates say Nathan’s severe asthma was well-known to management of the centre. He had been hospitalised for asthma just a few weeks prior and had been given numerous 'puffers' in the week leading up to his death, due to ongoing problems managing his condition.
Inmates have been deeply traumatised by the incident and held their own memorial for Nathan, who was widely respected in the centre.
Corrections NSW would not comment on the circumstances surrounding Nathan’s death, issuing a statement extending sympathy to family and friends.
“Every death that occurs in custody is investigated by senior investigators from the CSNSW Investigations Branch and detectives from the local Police Area Command. A detailed report of the incident will be prepared and referred to the NSW Coroner for an independent public inquest,” the statement said.
Taleah Reynolds, Nathan’s sister, said more should have been done.
“We are angry and totally in disbelief that we have lost Nathan. We believe if Corrective Services had acted in a timely manner, Nathan would still be with us today," she said.
"We will not give up until they are held responsible for his death. We will make another statement shortly as we are still mourning the loss of Nathan.”
Nathan’s death follows a detailed report by the Guardian Australia, which found that 147 Indigenous people have died in police or prison custody since 2008. Of those deaths, coronial inquests found that 33 per cent of men and 50 per cent of the women who died did not receive appropriate medical care.
The exact circumstances that led to Nathan’s death are still to be determined.
Padraic Gibson is a Senior Researcher at the Jumbunna Institute, UTS. Padraic's role includes advocating for Aboriginal families impacted by deaths in custody. @paddygibson