Avoidable Death: NT Coroner Finds Serious Failings in Indigenous Man’s Care

Darwin, Northern Territory – The tragic death of a 37-year-old Aboriginal man, Mr. Dooley, while in police custody has been deemed avoidable by the Northern Territory coroner, Elisabeth Armitage. Mr. Dooley, a Maiyali man from Eva Valley, passed away in 2022 at Royal Darwin Hospital due to a heart attack, a fate that could have been prevented through appropriate medical care and attention.

Armitage’s investigation revealed significant shortcomings in Mr. Dooley’s care, with health staff at the prison failing to refer him to a cardiologist despite abnormal electrocardiogram (ECG) results. This failure to act on the warning signs ultimately cost Mr. Dooley his life, as confirmed by cardiologist Kenneth Hossack’s testimony during the inquiry.

Furthermore, a series of oversights in Mr. Dooley’s medical treatment persisted, leading to a delay in responding to his deteriorating health. Despite reporting alarming symptoms like vomiting and dizziness, Mr. Dooley was met with inadequate care and a delayed ambulance call, further exacerbating the situation.

In light of these findings, Armitage highlighted systemic failings within NT Health, NT Corrections, and the NT Police Force, calling for urgent reforms to prevent similar tragedies in the future. These include establishing guidelines for ECG management, improving access to interpreters for families in custody deaths, and enhancing medical response protocols within correctional facilities.

The lack of proper documentation and failure to preserve essential evidence, such as CCTV footage and witness statements, further underscored the mishandling of Mr. Dooley’s case. Armitage’s recommendations aimed at rectifying these deficiencies and ensuring a more transparent and accountable approach to handling deaths in custody.

Ultimately, Mr. Dooley’s avoidable death raises critical questions about the treatment of Indigenous individuals in custody and the urgent need for systemic reforms to prevent such tragedies from recurring. The findings of Armitage’s investigation serve as a stark reminder of the importance of upholding the rights and dignity of all individuals, especially those in vulnerable situations.