• A man has died for unknown reasons in an Adelaide police cell, with questions raised as to why the custody notification service was not told till after he died. (Getty Images / powerofforever)Source: Getty Images / powerofforever
Exclusive: A 47-year-old Aboriginal man has died in custody after being found unconscious in his cell, with the South Australian Aboriginal Visitor’s Scheme revealing it was not told about his arrest till after he died.
23 Aug 2017 - 2:43 PM  UPDATED 23 Aug 2017 - 3:30 PM

The South Australian equivalent of the custody notification service has reported that it was not informed an Aboriginal man, whose first language was not English, had been arrested until after he died.

In the early hours of yesterday morning, 47-year-old Aboriginal man Mr Gibson was found unconscious in his cell at Adelaide's city watch house according to SA Police. Staff commenced CPR until ambulance crews arrived, but he could not be revived.

The Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement which operates the Aboriginal Visitor’s Scheme is asking why it was not contacted until more than two hours after his death. ALRM has released the man's identity with the permission of his family.

"In this case the Aboriginal Visitor’s Scheme had received no notification or request for their attendance or assistance,” ALRM CEO Cheryl Axelby said. 

It was one of the key recommendations of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody that all states notify a custody notification service whenever an Indigenous person is arrested to offer support, language and legal services.

 South Australian police said in a statement: "at this time the cause of his death is unknown and a post-mortem will be conducted". 

A spokesperson told NITV no further comment would be made as the matter was under investigation by the coroner.

Eric James Whittaker died in Westmead hospital in unexplained circumstances. (NITV has permission form his family to show his image)

Ms Axelby understands the man spoke very little English and said that Aboriginal people for whom English is a second language are very vulnerable when dealing with police. 

"Interpreters should always be used if there is a communication barrier," she said. 

A statement from Mr Gibson's family described him as "a very shy person who couldn't speak up for himself properly".

The death comes just months after the death in custody of 35-year-old Kamilaroi man, Eric James Whittaker in late June. 

Mr Whittaker died from unexplained head injuries sustained while in a NSW prison. His family are calling for an explanation from authorities. 

Family of SA man death in custody to speak
Committee to hear form the family of an Aboriginal man who died in an SA prison during an incident involving guards.

Ms Axelby said she was seriously concerned that there have now been two Aboriginal deaths in police custody in the last three months. 

"This case highlights the need for an effective and mandatory Custody Notification Service, founded on statute law, whereby officers of ALRM are able to communicate with police over the circumstances of persons in police custody.” 

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While the cause of death is yet to be determined, Ms Axleby understands it may have been related to a medical condition. 

“Inevitably, the cause and circumstances of this tragic death will come to light in the Coroner’s Court," she said.

"The Aboriginal Legal Rights is always concerned about the proper implementation of the very basic Royal Commission recommendations (which indeed arose from the South Australian cases investigated by the Royal Commission), of the paramount need for police to seek immediate medical assistance, for persons in police custody for whom there is any basis to be concerned,” she said.

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