26 Nov 2014

Inquest told prisoner visibly unwell

9:06 pm on 26 November 2014

Corrections officers have told an inquest into the death of an Otago prisoner that he was visibly unwell the day before he died.

Corrections officer Chris Kolimlim.

Corrections officer Chris Kolimlim. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Jai Davis, 30, died of suspected drug overdose at the Otago Corrections Facility near Milton in February 2011.

Two senior Corrections officers told the hearing in Dunedin that by Mr Davis' third day in an at-risk cell he looked grey, his arms were red and he appeared to be affected by drugs.

A third officer, Chris Kolimlim, said the 30-year-old was walking back and forth, scratching a lot and was very incoherent.

Mr Kolimlim said he remembers thinking the prisoner was high and perhaps the drugs were kicking in. He said he would have called an ambulance if it was up to him, but the prison's nurses assured him that Mr Davis was fine.

Senior manager didn't know medical term

Jai Davis.

Jai Davis Photo: Supplied

The most senior manager at the prison on the weekend Mr Davis died has revealed she did not know the term medical officer meant a doctor.

Ann-Maree Matenga, the operations support manager, also gave evidence today. She was acting two rungs higher and was effectively in charge at the jail when Mr Davis was was brought in on a Friday evening.

She said she gave verbal approval to put him straight into an at-risk cell because he was likely to be internally concealing drugs.

One specific requirement was to quickly notify a medical officer upon segregation. Ms Matenga told the inquest she did not know that meant a doctor, thinking it meant a nurse.

Ms Matenga said she did mandatory checks on Mr Davis in the at-risk unit on the Saturday and Sunday before he died, but admitted there was no written evidence that she had been there.

James Neill, a former Otago prison drug tester, has appeared at the inquest for Jai Davis

James Neill giving evidence at the inquest. Photo: ODT

Dispute over procedures

A former Otago prison drug tester told the inquest that he had a dispute with nurses about procedures.

James Neill said he printed off a form called "Advice to Prisoners Suspected of Concealing" and took it to the health service on the day Davis was admitted to the jail.

"My reasons for visiting medical was to talk to the nurse and manager because, although I thought she would have been aware that the prisoner was coming through the management structure, she may not have been aware of that form, that I believe was required to be read by a nurse."

Mr Neill said it was the nurses' responsibility to read the form to Davis and get him to sign it. The nurses dispute that and would give evidence tomorrow.

Mr Davis had previously been convicted of assault and theft, but broke probation and went into the prison in South Otago on remand while waiting to appear in court. He had decided to take drugs into prison with him, concealed inside his body.

It is alleged that prison authorities knew this and put him in a cell and made him sweat it out, but something went wrong and he died, apparently from the drugs he had ingested.

Last year, following a complaint to the Independent Police Conduct Authority, police held a large investigation into allegations prison nurses and guards had failed in their duty of care, but decided there was not enough evidence to lay charges.

Otago-Southland Coroner David Crerar is expected to call 58 witnesses at the inquest in Dunedin, which is scheduled to run for up to two weeks.


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