The coronial inquest into the death in custody of Anaiwan-Gamilaraay man Nathan Reynolds commenced at the NSW Coroner's Court in Lidcombe on Monday.
On the first day of the inquest the court heard an emotional account by a former cellmate, who broke down in tears as he described trying to help Mr Reynolds, who went stiff while struggling to breathe on the night of August 31, 2018.
Trained in first aid, the former cellmate placed Mr Reynolds in the recovery position and did his best to open the man's mouth and airways.
"He's done like a big gurgle and that's when I started rubbing my arm on his back and said, 'mate keep breathing'," the former cellmate told the NSW Coroners Court, wiping his eyes.
"He was alive then. He could hear me."
Minutes later, about 11.49pm, the only registered nurse at the prison that night arrived on scene.
The former cellmate said he was relieved and told her Mr Reynolds was breathing but had some yellow fluid coming out of his airways.
But he was distressed after seeing her roll Mr Reynolds onto his back.
"I've seen her ... slap Nathan in the face and aggressively shake him, and telling him to wake up," the former cellmate said.
"The nurse then said to (to a prison officer) that Nathan's had a drug overdose."
After the prison officer asked what drugs Mr Reynolds had taken, the former cellmate said: "How can you say that after you've sat there ... and watched him have an asthma attack?"
The nurse who attended the scene is due to testify about her version of events later in the inquest.
CPR began shortly after her arrival, continuing when paramedics showed up about 12.14am.
Thirty minutes later, and 77 minutes after he first radioed prison guards about his breathing difficulties, Mr Reynolds was declared dead.
He had earlier been seen seated on a couch next to the prison officer taking short breaths and puffs of Ventolin.
"He wasn't (talking). He was in a rhythm with his breathing," the former cellmate said.
When he said Mr Reynolds needed to be taken to the medical centre and put on oxygen, the former cellmate said prison officers replied they couldn't administer medical treatment.
Mr Reynolds, a 36-year-old Anaiwan-Gamilaraay man and father of three, was serving a four-month fixed-term sentence when he suffered an asthma attack on August 31, 2018 at a prison facility formerly known as outer metropolitan multi-purpose correctional centre in Rooty Hill.
Mr Reynolds was known to be a chronic asthmatic and died after being administered naloxone, a drug given to patients to counteract the effects of an overdose.
Paramedics arrived at the scene but were unable to resuscitate him and Mr Reynolds was pronounced dead at 12:20 am on September 1, 2018.
He was due to be released on September 7.
Family want answers
Earlier, Nathan Reynolds' sisters, Taleah and Makayla, told media outside the Coroner's Court they were hopeful the inquest would provide answers to questions about their brother’s death and prompt long-term change to ensure no one else experienced the grief and loss they have.
“We’re here today because we want to know the truth and we want justice for our brother – we want to make sure that no other family should have to go through this pain," said Taleah Reynolds.
The family said that the main questions they want answered concern the lack of an asthma management plan in place, why medical assistance took so long to arrive, and why Mr Reynolds wasn’t provided with basic medical care by an adequately equipped nurse.
'The world is watching like never before'
Karley Warner, CEO of Aboriginal Legal Service NSW-ACT, told media outside court that in the wake of the “swell of support” around the Black Lives Matter movement, someone must be held accountable for the death in custody of Mr Reynolds.
Ms Warner said that although the families of those who have died in custody have been left behind to continue to suffer “grief and agony”, she commended them for their leadership and commitment to driving change.
Ms Warner also highlighted the urgent need to address the high rates of Indigenous deaths in custody via the implementation of all the recommendations of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
“The world is watching like never before,” she said.
- with AAP