Prison officers took about 10 minutes to respond to a call for help from an Indigenous man who later died from an asthma attack, a Sydney inquest has heard.
Nathan Reynolds, 36, called for assistance at 11.27pm after struggling to breathe at a South Windsor prison’s minimum-security wing on 31 August 2018. Guards arrived 12 minutes later after walking there.
One of them, Matthew Fawzy, said he been waiting for a colleague to see Reynolds. When asked why this took roughly 10 minutes, he said on Tuesday: “I can’t think of anything.”
When asked why he didn’t run to Reynolds, the prison officer told the NSW coroners court he had been trained to avoid that. “We were taught never to run unless it’s an officer actually getting assaulted,” Fawzy said.
Casey Wright, the prison’s only registered nurse, was called at 11.40pm with Fawzy explaining he had also been trained to “sight” prisoners calling for assistance before requesting a nurse.
“We get knock-ups (calls for assistance) all the time – you don’t know what’s legitimate and what’s false,” he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, fellow inmate Aaron Robinson fought back tears as he recalled desperately trying to assist Reynolds, who went stiff while struggling to breathe before he died.
“I needed to keep him calm. He was in a panic, couldn’t exhale – he was a man begging for help with his eyes and he couldn’t say a word,” Robinson told the coroners court. “What little breath he had was just gasping for help. I just asked him to look at me and concentrate on me ... to try and relax so he could breathe.”
Robinson, then 44 and trained in first-aid, said he had bonded with Reynolds as they both expected to be released from prison on the same day in September 2018. “We’re getting too old for this shit,” Robinson recalled the two men joking with each other.
The inquest on Monday was told by another inmate, Jeremy Preo, that Reynolds was slapped in the face by Wright. Preo also recalled the nurse telling a prison officer the dying man was having a drug overdose.
Wright is due to testify later in the inquest. CPR began shortly after her arrival, continuing when paramedics showed up about 12.14am.
Thirty minutes later, and 77 minutes after he first radioed prison guards about his breathing difficulties, Reynolds was declared dead.
The inquest is expected to hear from respiratory specialist Prof Greg King that when Reynolds radioed for help at 11.27pm his condition was already severe and life-threatening and the window to prevent his death was very narrow.
Reynolds’ sisters, who have attended the hearing alongside her brother’s partner and mother, said they want truth and justice.