Mum’s death in watchhouse leads to calls for custody change
THE death of a mother of three while in custody in the Ipswich Watchhouse has led the State Coroner to recommend that assurances are made to prisoners they won't face further charges for admitting they have taken drugs.
Cindy Leigh Miller was 44-years-old when she died while in custody in the watchhouse on Ellenborough St in the early hours of the morning on April 21, 2018.
She was found by watchhouse staff in an unresponsive state in a secure cell just after 1.30am, with an autopsy later concluding she died of mixed drug toxicity.
Supreme Court sentencing remarks from 2015 indicated Ms Miller had a history of drug abuse and her criminal history started in 1994.
An analysis of her phone between February and April 2018 showed she was a regular consumer of drugs including methylamphetamine and cannabis.
She was convicted of manslaughter in 2007 which, according to the coronial inquest, occurred while she was trying to leave a violent relationship.
She was sentenced to seven years' jail for the offence.
Ms Miller was released on parole in 2009 and was subject to that order until 2013.
Her final conviction came in 2015 for drug possession.
Two warrants for her arrest were issued in September and October of that year for failing to appear in court on a total of 18 drugs and weapons offences and failing to report while serving an intensive corrections order.
In April 2018, Ms Miller was intercepted by police while she was the passenger in a car and arrested.
Two used hypodermic syringes, several empty small clip seal bags and three Valium tablets were found in a search of her handbag.
A pat down did not find any items of interest and police stated she displayed no signs of drug use.
Ms Miller was then taken to the watchhouse in Ipswich, arriving just before 7pm.
During a health questionnaire she told officers she had consumed alcohol but had not taken any illicit substances in the previous 24 hours.
At 1.35am Ms Miller was found unresponsive in her cell.
Despite police officers and paramedics attempting to revive her, she was pronounced dead at 2.10am.
There were no obvious movements made by Ms Miller that were observed by cell checks or CCTV after 12.03am.
"Whilst it is possible Ms Miller had an extremely high level (of methylamphetamine) when first detained and died from its toxic effects more than six hours later, the more logical explanation would be that she either deliberately ingested methylamphetamine whilst in custody or the clip seal bag discovered in her vagina failed and it was absorbed that way," the coronial inquest report notes.
"While it is possible that Ms Miller deliberately ingested methylamphetamine while she was in custody in the watchhouse there is insufficient evidence to reach that conclusion.
"CCTV footage shows that the only opportunity Ms Miller had to consume any concealed drugs was when she was in Bulk Hold Cell 1 for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
"Ms Miller was the only occupant in this cell.
"The CCTV camera is located to the left of the entrance door, a point of view from the bottom left of screen.
"At the top right of the screen is the privacy screen shielding the toilet."
When Ms Miller was being processed through the watchhouse a female officer conducted an unclothed search.
"(The officer) did not observe any items on Ms Miller's body, nor did she receive any indication Ms Miller had anything concealed in her vagina," the report notes.
"(The officer) explained that watchhouse staff have no authority to physically touch prisoners during an unclothed search, or make prisoners squat.
"At no time did she disclose she had concealed drugs on her person."
State Coroner Terry Ryan recommended the Queensland Police Service consider revising the script of its health questionnaire asked on entry into watchhouse custody.
"(To be done) with a view to ensuring that prisoners understand that their answers are for the purpose of ensuring their health needs can be managed in the watchhouse," he wrote.
"This should include an assurance to the prisoner that further charges would not result from their answers to questions about past consumption of drugs.
"The evidence at the inquest has established that where there were inadequacies at the Ipswich Watchhouse at the time of Ms Miller's death, those issues have been addressed.
"Those issues included the lack of currency with CPR training, CCTV camera maintenance and the management of emergency devices in the watchhouse.
"In those circumstances, I do not consider that there are any further recommendations that I can usefully make on those matters."
Mr Ryan also recommended that the State Government consider whether to commission an independent review of the current arrangements for the investigation of police related deaths on behalf of the coroner and the oversight of those investigations.
"Finally, I extend my condolences to Ms Miller's family and friends," he wrote.
"It was clear from the evidence that she was loved and is deeply missed by them."
Read more stories by Lachlan McIvor here.