Friday, June 17, 2005

Repeated CCTV checks, man was dead all along

Nuñez inquest - By Brian Reyes

The third day of the inquest into the death of Clive Nuñez heard disturbing evidence from police officers who were present when his body was discovered.

Mr Nuñez hung himself in a police cell in New Mole House station at around 4.15am on the morning of October 14, 2001.

But no one realised he was dead until around 9am, nearly five hours later, even though several officers had checked CCTV monitors that showed the scene inside each of the cells. They all concluded that Mr Nuñez was asleep and well, and only suspected that something was wrong after noticing he had been in the same position for a number of hours.

Mr Nuñez was, in fact, hanging by a cord attached to a grille on the cell wall and tied tightly round his neck. But this was not clear from the grainy CCTV footage, which once again was viewed by the Coroner’s Court yesterday.

James Viñales, who was a police sergeant at the time but has since retired, told the court that he had checked the monitors twice that morning before Mr Nuñez was found dead.

Mr Viñales, who had started his shift as station sergeant just before 7am, was a highly experienced officer who at the time had served as a sergeant in the Royal Gibraltar Police for 17 years.

“The deceased appeared to me to be sleeping sitting down,” Mr Viñales, who had known Mr Nuñez for some years, told the court.

Finding the Body

Duncan James, a police constable at the time of the death, had also started his shift early that morning. In his role as jailer, he was responsible for the supervision of any prisoners held in the cells.

Just before 9am, Mr James, who will not be giving evidence to the inquest, was said to have noticed from CCTV monitors that Mr Nuñez had been motionless for some time.
He called over a fellow officer, Debbie Jones, who was then a newly recruited police constable but is now a Detective Constable.

The court was shown video footage of both officers looking at the CCTV monitors at about 8.52am that morning, and was read a transcript of their conversation.

At one point DC Jones, who gave evidence to the inquest yesterday and read her own part in that transcript aloud in court, asked: “Is he dead?” “I don’t know,” Mr James – whose words were read out by the Nuñez family lawyer, Elliott Phillips - replied.

“That’s spooky, that’s weird,” answered DC Jones, before adding: “He’s moving.”

The poor quality of the CCTV footage had given her the impression that Mr Nuñez had moved.

Mr James had earlier been given orders to charge and bail Mr Nuñez and he had prepared to do so around that time. But according to evidence heard yesterday, Mr James had also expressed concerns that Mr Nuñez’s position in the cell suggested he was waiting to pounce on the first officer to open the cell door.

Minutes after his conversation with DC Jones, he fetched the then Sergeant Viñales and together they went to cell number 2, where Mr Nuñez was being held.

“PC James then opened the door and I walked in and I saw that the deceased appeared to be lifeless, grey in colour and had a cord around his neck which was attached to the ventilating window on top of him,” Mr Viñales told the court.

“I was shocked as to what I had seen and I could see that nothing could be done for him as rigor mortis had already set in.”

Checks and Procedures

Much of the evidence and questioning heard yesterday focused on the nature of the checks carried out on Mr Nuñez and on the custody procedures that were in place at the time.

The court heard from a number of officers that although it was routine for prisoners who were drunk or considered a risk to be checked frequently – every 30 minutes seemed to be the general consensus – there were no firmly established rules or orders relating to this at the time.

The court also heard that jailors at the time were not given any specific training on how to supervise prisoners detained in the cells and that the post, which often involved duties other than prisoner supervision, did not have a detailed job description.

Evidence from several officers also suggested that, although it was always preferable to check prisoners physically, it was common practice at the time to carry out checks using the CCTV monitors, particularly at busy times or when prisoners were sleeping.

On the night he died, Mr Nuñez had been arrested for being drunk and disorderly, though the inquest heard from several officers that he had not appeared to be excessively drunk.

He was brought to the station just after 2am, died at around 4.15am and was discovered at around 9am, but in all that time the inquest heard that he had only been checked physically on one occasion, just after 3am.

Several officers said they conducted visual checks using the CCTV monitors, both during the night shift and early in the morning.

In one case, that of the then police constable Henry McIntosh, the jailor on the night shift, the inquest heard that those checks were found to have been “ineffective and inaccurate” by a separate court. No further details were provided to the Coroner’s Court.

In the case of the other officers who checked the CCTV monitors, including the then police constable Duncan James, who relieved Mr McIntosh as jailer early in the morning, the court heard that all of them had failed to detect that Mr Nuñez had been dead for number of hours.

The inquest also heard that, later that same day, Mr James told Mr Viñales that he had not carried out a physical check on Mr Nuñez from the time he had started his shift to the time when the body was discovered.

Procedures for prisoner supervision in police cells have since been changed and tightened.

The inquest continues today.

Related Article:

16 June 2005 - Drama of final moments unfolds

15 June 2005 - Inquest shown cell death video footage


Post a Comment

<< Home