State coroner Terry Ryan has recommended Queensland Police use more discretion and alternatives to arrest for public nuisance and other low level offences, after the death of an Aboriginal man in Normanton in 2016.
Speaking on October 2 at the inquest into the death of Neil Richard Banjo, who died after a fall in an altercation with police, Mr Ryan said police officers needed to have specific awareness of the risk of significant head injury to vulnerable persons who fall after being pushed over in what police call the "crouch dive technique".
He also said QPS should review its policies around use of force and cultural competency
Mr Banjo was a 53-year-old Carpentaria Shire Council worker who suffered a serious head injury following a confrontation with police officers outside his Normanton home on February 25, 2016.
He never regained consciousness and died in a nursing home almost a year later.
On the night of the incident, Mr Banjo was attending a birthday celebration for his daughter Heather when his partner called police because their other daughter Zoelene had been arguing with him and had been ordered to go outside and calm down.
Both Mr Banjo and his daughter had been drinking heavily.
Zoelene was seated on the path outside the house when when officers from Normanton Station arrived.
She refused to give them details of her name and threw a vodka cruiser bottle which landed on the bitumen road and smashed, narrowly missing officers.
Though she said she had not intended for the bottle to strike an officer, police thought she aimed it at them and arrested her, placing her in a hold which she resisted.
As they escorted her to the vehicle, others including Mr Banjo approached them, concerned she was being rough handled, and he shouted, "Hey young officer, don't rough handle her."
Mr Banjo then said "Whoa, whoa, whoa don't push me" to which one of the officers responded "I will push you and you'll end up getting arrested for obstruct as well. Give us some space and we will treat her accordingly okay".
The inquest found Mr Banjo was acting aggressively though there was disagreement as to whether his hands formed a fist or he was merely pointing.
The inquest found there was initial contact between the officer and Mr Banjo before the final push that led to Mr Banjo's fall.
The officer admitted he was scared and after rejecting other options such as capsicum spray and a Taser, he decided to perform the "crouch dive technique" on Mr Banjo to "gain time and space" otherwise he believed he would be "punched in the face."
The crouch dive caused Mr Banjo to fall backwards to the ground and his head struck the bitumen with force.
After receiving emergency treatment at the scene, and at the Normanton Hospital, Mr Banjo was transferred to the Townville Hospital on February 26, where he remained until May 2016.
He was then transferred to the Cairns Hospital but he remained bed bound and unable to communicate.
Mr Banjo was discharged to nursing home care on January 17, but died the following day.
An internal police review after the incident found officers had not breached procedures.
Detective Senior Sergeant Clark, who conducted the internal review told the Coroner Normanton was an isolated community which only had one police crew comprised of two junior constables on duty at the time. She said they were faced with 20 people at the party and a significant amount of alcohol had been consumed.
Detective Senior Sergeant Clark said that Zoelene Beasley's smashed bottle reaction to police had escalated the incident into a high risk situation and the officers' behaviour was "appropriate".
Coroner Ryan said Mr Banjo's level of intoxication affected his ability to protect himself by breaking his fall when he was suddenly pushed over.
"The crouch dive manoeuvre is an effective technique to create space and time, and lies towards the lower end of the range of use of force options available to police," the coroner said.
"I also accept that police officers are required to make rapid decisions about use of force options. However, officers should be required to have regard to the specific risk of significant head injury to someone who is intoxicated and suddenly knocked off their feet on a hard surface."
The coroner said that with the benefit of hindsight, it is possible Mr Banjo's death could have been avoided if the attending constables had considered options apart from arresting Zoelene Beasley.
"It is possible that a Community Justice Group member, or an Indigenous police liaison officer, might have assisted the officers in the resolution of the original complaint, which was essentially a dispute between family members," he said.
"A notice to appear or an on the spot fine might have been issued as alternatives to arrest."
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