• Tane Chatfield's image and name has been used with his family's consent. (Supplied by family)Source: Supplied by family
The family of a New South Wales Indigenous man who died in custody last week are seeking for answers surrounding his death.
Claudianna Blanco, Liz Deep-Jones

25 Sep 2017 - 8:17 PM  UPDATED 26 Sep 2017 - 6:08 PM

Mr Chatfield was found unresponsive in his cell at the Tamworth Correctional Centre on Wednesday 20 September.

The Corrective Services Investigation Unit, which is part of the NSW Police Force, is investigating the death, but have said in a statement "it's not being treated as suspicious." However, the family believes he wasn't suicidal. 

22-year-old Tane Chatfield had spent almost 2 years on remand for an alleged armed robbery.

Mr Chatfield’s mother, Nioka Chatfield, says the family is deeply unsatisfied with the way they’ve been treated by Corrective Services NSW.

She alleges the authorities have not officially notified the family of all the details of her son’s death.

“All they said to me is that they found him hanging [in his cell] at five minutes past nine,” Ms Chatfield told NITV News.

But Ms Chatfield says she believes her son had too much to live for and was looking forward to his potential release.

“The boy that I know, he had too much determination in his spirit not to do that,” she says.

“I’d seen my boy the day before … he was supposed to be due in court, the day that they found him. He asked me if I’d buy him a red shirt and a red tie for court the next day. He said, ‘please mum, don’t be late, don’t be late’. On the 4th of October he was going to turn up at Parramatta District Court to get his name cleared … to get dismissed,” Ms Chatfield explains.

“That’s the red shirt and the red tie that we’re going to be burying our boy in.”

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Ms Chatfield believes there are contradictions between her own observations of her son and the initial reports of authorities saying he attempted to take his life.

“Why would he sit in jail for two years on remand [before he was] just about to clear his name? [All he had to do was] wait to District Court, then he might’ve been coming home. Now, why would my boy do that? I’m not saying anything against the correctional centre, I’m not going to say anything else, I just wanna know why…”

Ms Chatfield is also angry because authorities didn’t inform her when her son was taken to the hospital.

“I never got notified that he got to [the] hospital the night before nor did I get notified that he was on life support,” she protests.   

“I asked ... ‘why didn’t you knock at my door? Why didn’t you ring me?’.”    

But Corrective Services NSW has told NITV News they notified Mr Chatfield’s next of kin and followed their standard procedure.

Comment: Every State and Territory must roll-out the Custody Notification Service
Several recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987 to 1991) screamed for the enabling of immediate support to detainees through highly skilled advocates. Today, this support exists through the Custody Notification Service (CNS), but only in NSW and the ACT. With nearly half the nation’s arrests comprising of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, it is unjustifiable that the rest of the nation has not implemented this service.

Lesley Turner, CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) NSW & ACT, confirmed that the Tamworth/Armidale branch of the ALS would be acting on the family’s behalf. He also established the ALS had been notified when Mr Chatfield was initially placed in custody.  

“Our service was informed and I understand he was in custody pending a hearing,” Mr Turner said.

He also confirmed there would be a coronial inquiry into the case, given it was a death in custody.

“The ALS will be talking to the family. At this stage, we can’t make any further comments.”

Mr Chatfield’s death is the second Aboriginal death in custody in NSW in 2017 to make headlines, and the third to make waves since Rebecca Maher’s death while in NSW police custody in July 2016.

In July 2017, 35-year-old Aboriginal man Eric Whittaker died in custody shackled to a bed while in a coma, after sustaining unexplained head injuries, whilst Rebecca Maher became the first death in police custody since the introduction of the Custody Notification Service in NSW in 2000. 

“In terms of the deaths, it’s concerning to the ALS and our communities. Our issue with incarceration rates in this country is a national disgrace, the support services for Aboriginal people is minute,” Mr Turner laments.

As for Ms Chatfield, she says she wants justice. But first, she needs time to mourn, care for the family and gain the strength to stand up.

"I'll never get to see or hold or hear my son's voice ever again.”

She says that she had the dignity to contact the jail when she heard of her son’s passing, despite the fact she hadn’t been notified by them when he was taken to the intensive care unit.

“At the time when I got the word that he passed at 4:50 on the 22 of September, I walked to his residential home at the time and I delivered the message myself to the officers with my family following me walking from the hospital down to the jail, sobbing my heart out. That’s what I did. I did the right thing and delivered the message. Why didn't anybody deliver a message to me?" 

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