Jai Davis died from a drug overdose two days after being remanded to Otago prison in February 2011. The inquest into his death starts in Dunedin next week – on Monday 24 November, 2014. The hearing is likely to last two weeks and will expose numerous failings by prison management, prison nurses and prison officers who all knew Davis was ‘internally concealing’ drugs but never bothered to call a doctor or an ambulance.
Here’s the background. Knowing he was going to be arrested, Davis tried to smuggle in codeine and benzodiazepines for some other prisoners. Corrections knew he had drugs inside him because they’d been monitoring phone calls from these prisoners asking Davis to bring in some ‘candy’ when he turned himself in.
The police also knew Davis had drugs on board because Corrections told them. They asked police to keep him away from other prisoners when he appeared in court – in case he tried to pass the drugs on.
Once he was taken to prison, Corrections put Davis in a special ‘dry’ cell for ‘At Risk’ prisoners. These cells don’t have toilets. When the inmate wants to ‘go’, he is given a cardboard potty and is watched while he defecates. Once he’s done, prison officers look though the faeces to see what came out. Corrections put Davis in one of these observation cells so they could catch him with the drugs and charge him with smuggling in contraband.
Prison manager failed to call doctor
The manager at Otago Correctional facility is Jack Harrison (below). Throughout the two days that Davis was in prison, his team (managers, nurses and prison officers) broke all their own rules. One of those rules is: “The Management of Prisoners Suspected of Internally Concealing Unauthorised Items”. It clearly states that prison management is required to “inform a medical officer (a doctor) that the prisoner is being confined to a dry cell”. The prison manager who was on duty when Davis was admitted signed a form stating she would advise the doctor of the situation. She never did.
On the Sunday morning, two days after he was admitted, Davis was clearly not well. One of the prison officers who was monitoring him subsequently told police:
“The nurse was assessing Davis. I stood at the cell door while she did this. Jai (Davis) looked like a corpse, he was grey coloured and was scratching badly – his arms were real red. His eyes were sunken and he had the cold sweats. He was definitely not his usual self and he had slurred speech as well. To my mind, he was showing all the signs of someone being on drugs. What’s more his breath smelt like faeces. I could smell it from where I was when he was talking to the nurse. The nurse said he was fine and that was that. I thought to myself, I am glad that’s your call, because to me, he looked as though he should have been in hospital.”
Another nurse who was on duty later that afternoon, Janice Horne, also thought Davis was under the influence of drugs. Corrections investigator, David Morrison, wrote: “Her assessment of Mr Davis at this time was that he was under the influence of some drug because of the slow movements that he was making”. Janice Horne knocked off work at 8.00pm that evening and subsequently told Mr Morrison (and the police) that she saw no reason to call a doctor. She thought Mr Davis was fine, even though he was clearly under the influence of drugs. Davis died two hours later. There was a camera in the cell recording every movement he made and the last one, the ‘death shake’, was at 10.01pm, two hours after Ms Horne went home. By the time prison officers realised he was dead – at about 5.00am the next morning - his body was already stiff from rigor mortis.
Life is cheap in Otago prison
Davis was seen by five different nurses over the course of the weekend. They all knew he was in the ‘dry’ cell suspected of internally concealing drugs. Not one of them called the doctor. They didn’t even call the health centre manager. Nurses have a Code of Conduct which requires them, among many other obligations, to “Act promptly if a health consumer’s safety is compromised.” All five nurses responsible for Mr Davis’ health care over the weekend abandoned their ethics and ignored the Code of Conduct.
When the nurses were subsequently interviewed by the police and asked why they didn’t call the doctor, two of them said that cost was a factor. They said that calling the doctor out on the weekend was discouraged because the prison is 45 minutes’ drive from Dunedin where the prison doctor lived and a callout cost $300. Life is cheap in Otago prison.
Despite so many Corrections staff failing to perform their duties in this case, not one Corrections manager, officer or nurse was charged with a crime. Why? Because the police also knew Davis was internally concealing drugs; with that knowledge, they held him in the police cells overnight and took him to court and then to Otago prison the next day. But they couldn’t be bothered calling a doctor either. They just chucked Davis in prison. My guess is that the police didn’t want a judge, or the public, to find out that they also contributed to his death.