• Barbara Stoeckel-Clayton and Jennifer Clayton outside Perth Central Law Courts. (NITV News: Aaron Fernandes)Source: NITV News: Aaron Fernandes
The family of Noongar-Yamatji woman Ms Wynne says both mental health services and Western Australia police failed her.
Aaron Fernandes, Cason Ho

18 Sep 2021 - 10:20 AM  UPDATED 18 Sep 2021 - 10:20 AM

The grandmother of Ms Wynne has called for a controversial handcuffing and restraint technique to be banned, at the conclusion of an inquest into the 26-year-old’s death.

Noongar-Yamatji woman Ms Wynne fell unconscious on 4 April 2019, after being restrained by Western Australian police. She was held face down on the ground with her arms behind her, and an officer’s knee placed across her back.

An expert physician who gave evidence at the inquest said that Ms Wynne went into cardiac arrest under the effects of methyl-amphetamine while being restrained.

She died in Royal Perth Hospital five days later.

Ms Wynne’s grandmother, Jenny Clayton, said she wants the method of restraint used on Ms Wynne to be banned.

“The ‘prone’ position used to restrain people by police should be abolished completely and not be used to put handcuffs on a person. Because it causes asphyxiation,” she told NITV News outside the Perth Central Law Courts on Friday.

“There’s got to be some other option besides (putting) them on the ground, forcing their hands behind their back and kneeling on their shoulder blades.”

Use of force

Police officers were attempting to detain the mother-of-three under the WA Mental Health Act, after reports she had self-harmed and was suffering a severe mental health episode.

She was not being apprehended for committing a crime.

Sergeant Jace Williams told the inquest that he pushed Ms Wynne onto her stomach and placed his knee on her upper back to allow officers to handcuff her arms behind her and to prevent Ms Wynne from getting up.

WA Police use-of-force advisor Chris Markham told the inquest on Friday that Sergeant Williams had acted in accordance with police training.

“Prone handcuffing is the preferred method of handcuffing. It's easier to apply handcuffs to the rear, we have far better control and prevent the risk of injury,” Mr Markham said.

“In the prone position, (the arresting officers) are going to be using their shin or knee to restrain that person. Its part of the training”.

However, the inquest heard that police officers in WA are also provided annual training to recognise the dangers of the technique, including that the subdued person may suffer positional asphyxia.

The inquest heard that none of the four officers present at the scene checked Ms Wynne’s breathing during the nearly two minutes that she was restrained, or asked her if she was able to breathe.

An investigation by WA Police Force Internal Affairs Unit cleared all officers involved with Ms Wynne of any wrongdoing.

Family in mourning

Ms Clayton’s son and Ms Wynne’s father, died in a police watch house in Albany when he too was 26 years old.

“It's been really distressing for all our family, listening to a lot of the evidence. I find that it's really conflicting, and I'm trying to make some sense of it,” she says.

During the inquest, CCTV footage showing Ms Wynne running from police officers in the middle of Albany Highway was played to the court.

“After seeing the CCTV of her running, I thought, "she must have been so terrified and frightened, thinking 'the police are after me, they're going to do what they done to my father,'" she said.

“And then I think of her little ones that she's left behind, and they've got to grow up without their mum. Its just very emotional.”

The court rejected an application by SBS News and NITV to have the footage released to the media. Ms Wynne’s family supports the release of the footage.

Around forty demonstrators laid face down on the road in front of the court after midday on Friday, imitating the position Ms Wynne was restrained in before she fell unconscious.

Among them was Ms Wynne’s now 4-year-old daughter Shirley-Rose, wearing a shirt collaged with her deceased mother’s image.

Shirley-Rose was taken by child protection services two weeks before her mother died, when Ms Wynne brought her to Joondalup Health Campus concerned the child had ingested medications.

It took six months for Ms Wynne’s maternal grandmother, Barbara Stoeckel-Clayton, to get custody of Shirley Rose.

“Her mum went through a really hard life, so we’re just trying to make sure she has a better life. We’re trying to break a cycle of poverty,” Ms Stoeckel-Clayton said.

“She’s just one beautiful little kid.”

With the inquest now complete, the family awaits the findings and recommendations of Coroner Philip Urquhart.

“It's just heartbreaking to think that this thing can happen. At the end of the day, the system has failed and what we're seeking is justice,” Ms Clayton says.

“My granddaughter must have been very confused, very terrified and frightened (especially) in her mental state of mind.

“Then she went off and self-harmed and that and nobody helped her.

“We want change for our future generations so that this doesn't happen to any other Aboriginal families or any family for that matter.”

WA police officers questioned over pursuit of Aboriginal woman Ms Wynne at inquest
WA police officers have been asked to explain why they chased a 26-year-old Aboriginal woman, entered her residence and handcuffed her, despite not suspecting her of committing any specific crime. Ms Wynne died five days later in hospital.