More deaths in custody — man who begged for help dies

[Publishers Note: Below is a report from Ray Jackson, president of the Indigenous Social Justice Association and elder of the Wiradguri nation who sends out emails under the heading Aboriginal News. Further reports and a interview with Sam Watson from Murri Watch about the failure of implementation of the royal commission into black deaths in custody [by Eliza from 4ZZZ’s Paradigm Shift] are included below.

From: Ray Jackson
more on the recent death of our brother, lyji vaggs, who died in the townsville hospital on 14 april.

the report by tony koch tells as much as is allowed to be told, again all information going to the coroner’s office and not to the family. woodham’s ‘not in the public interest rule’ seems to be spreading.

lyji was distressed and traumatised enough without the cops being called in. as if that would be of any assistance, most of us freeze up when the cops are around us.

why the cops were called and not family members who worked at the hospital or even his mother who is able to calm him is yet to be learnt. that information is clearly marked on his chart.

instead he got some male staff who restrained him, it is said, by sitting on him or lying on him. i find it most unsatisfying that such proven dangerous practices were enacted by the male staff and it seems they did not know how dangerous such a restraining method was to the person being restrained.

and for the staff to then call in the police only added to his already high levels of distress and trauma. they also restrained him by hand- cuffing lyji. it is not yet clearly known what method of restraint the police used whist putting the cuffs on.

there is said to be cctv footage of the events and we can only hope that there were no problems with either the tape or the camera or its transport to the coroners office. we must remember that, as always, the police are in charge of the investigation and already the qld police union, and again without a shred of evidence to support their claim, have declared their members to be blameless.

the family now must go through that life-draining process of awaiting the coroner’s pleasure to perform the inquest before more of the facts are made known.

the family have elected to have gracelyn smallwood, his aunt, a nurse and mental health advocate whilst also being an activist in aboriginal social issues including deaths in custody, as their representative. she at least has a comprehensive understanding of the methods of operation of all the systems involved.

again we extend our sincerest sympathies to the family, community and many friends of lyji vaggs.


Interview of Sam Watson on Deaths in Custody by Eliza from Paradigm Shift.


Sam Watson presents petition on deaths in custody at Parliament house on 10 April 2010
Sam Watson presents petition on deaths in custody at Parliament house on 10 April 2010 as ‘Coco’ Wharton defends his son as security calls police.


It is only a few weeks since Sheldon Currie died in custody in Brisbane hospital, now Lyji Vaggs has been killed at Townsville Public hospital because he begged to be admitted.

Two aboriginal comrades, Gracelyn Smallwood and Sam Watson, have lost family members to death in custody, and our thoughts and condolences go out to them and their families. Two mothers lose their sons, something that cannot be borne — there is no balm for such pain — for the bond between parent and child is so great.

A man who begged for help dies

• From: The Australian
• April 17, 2010 12:00AM

THE diminutive Aboriginal woman was the last to leave the hospital room.

She whispered a prayer, held her son’s hand and kissed him gently on the forehead.

Debbie Lampton then pushed the button that turned off the life-support system, and her boy, Lyji Vaggs, slipped away.

The young man had been as good as dead for 24 hours.

On Wednesday, he arrived at the Acute Mental Health Unit of Townsville Hospital, begging to be admitted. While his family had coffee, thinking all was finally well and he would get the help he needed, Vaggs, 27, was told there was no bed available.

He reacted angrily. Security staff were called, along with police, who handcuffed him. Within minutes, he suffered respiratory failure and massive brain damage.

Vaggs’s unanswered pleas for help expose gaping holes in treatment for mental health – an area conspicuously absent so far from Kevin Rudd’s hospital reform package. The Prime Minister is tipped next week to announce further funding in a bid to further sweeten his bid for support from the premiers for Canberra’s shakeup of the health system.

A father of three young boys, Vaggs was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and had been receiving treatment at Townsville Hospital for about two years.

For the past three weeks of his life, he had been telling his family that he was hearing voices. Repeatedly, he went to the hospital, asking to be admitted. Vaggs told anyone who would listen he needed help.

A gentle, church-going fellow, he was desperate for the attention of psychiatrists and nursing staff, but they kept saying sorry, there was no place for him in the small and overtaxed mental health unit.

Time after time, he was told to go home and take his prescribed medication.

But it wasn’t enough.

On Tuesday, Vaggs returned to the hospital because of the urgency of the “noises” and, yet again, was sent on his way.

At some point, according to family members, the hospital finally sent a medical team to examine him at home. His aunt, Jenny Wyles, said yesterday: “It was their assessment that he really needed to be admitted, so that is what they told him. His wife, Stacey, got Lyji and their three little boys into the car and she drove him to the hospital, dropped him out the front and then parked the car.

“She took the boys to the nearby coffee shop and was waiting there to hear from her husband whether, at last, he was going to be admitted and treated. But the call she got was one telling her to come immediately to the Intensive Care Unit because her husband was not expected to live.”

There, medical staff worked on Vaggs for 45 minutes in a desperate but futile bid to revive him. He had test after test, including an MRI, but in the end there was nothing to be done. A doctor told Stacey that her husband would never regain consciousness.

“She was told to get her family together and in a short time about 30 of us had gathered at the hospital and were waiting, hoping for some good news,” Wyles said.

“Then a mental health doctor came into the room and told all of us that he could not figure out what caused Lyji to stop breathing.”

Wyles’ sister is associate professor Gracelyn Smallwood, one of Australia’s most prominent indigenous academics and activists who has had 42 years’ experience as a nurse, mostly in the mental health field.

She works shifts at Townsville Hospital and is completing a doctorate in indigenous mental health at James Cook University, where she is employed as an adviser on indigenous issues.

She has untiringly led protests about the 2004 death in custody of Palm Islander Mulrunji Doomadgee, but this time the victim was not just an indigenous brother, but her own “blood”.

Yesterday, Smallwood was nominated by Vaggs’ family to be their spokeswoman at a meeting in Townsville attended by Health Department and hospital officials, Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission investigators, Police Ethical Standards branch officers and mental health officials.

She said the family was satisfied at this stage with the investigation into her nephew’s death, but had insisted that an independent autopsy be conducted.

“We were assured that there is closed circuit TV footage of the restraining of my nephew by hospital staff and later by police, and that footage is in the hands of the coroner,” Smallwood told The Weekend Australian.

“The provision of mental health facilities at hospital is a joke. There have been so many reports and investigations done, yet nothing has improved, and now we have a situation where a young man seeks voluntarily to admit himself and is killed.

“We don’t want this to ever happen again to any patient, black or white, and is why a full and open inquiry must be held to establish who was at fault. It is appalling that there are not beds available to take patients who are crying out for help as was the case here with this gentle young man.”

Nursing staff told The Weekend Australian that Vaggs became
“boisterous” after he arrived at the public hospital about 2pm on Wednesday, prompting reception staff to call the police. But, according to one account, at least six security and hospital orderly staff confronted the agitated young man before the police arrived.

The hospital staff physically restrained Vaggs, and some of them were seen sitting and lying on him on the floor of the mental health reception area.

Then the police turned up. Vaggs was handcuffed and given three injections of “an anti-psychotic drug”, the family says.

At this point, horrified medical staff realised he was no longer breathing. The registrar of the hospital has confirmed to the family that Vaggs received injected doses of medication before his breathing stopped. He was rushed into the ICU, and his wife called.

Smallwood questions why the police were called at all.

“This was three o’clock in the afternoon and there were plenty of security and male staff around, and for this young man to be manhandled and then to see the boys in blue, it would have just heightened his anxiety and psychosis,” she said. “The staff at the hospital have Lyji’s chart and it is clearly marked by his mother that if he ever goes off, he calms down just by hearing her voice. There were dozens of indigenous people including mental health nurses and even members of Lyji’s family at the hospital at that time, and none was called.

“His mother wasn’t called, his wife wasn’t called – nobody was called except the police. We are not talking here about a troublemaker, but a gentle person who was an Assembly of God parishioner and his uncle, Pastor Brian Lampton, is head of the church here.

“Our legal team is going to pick this up from Monday, after the family meets on Sunday.”

CCTV failure dismays family of dead mental patient


ray jackson
indigenous social justice association

3 thoughts on “More deaths in custody — man who begged for help dies

  1. Yet another death, so soon after the sorry business of the past few weeks.

    A person goes to hospital and asks for medical help on several occasions only to be told there are no beds in the hospital, and on the final occasion the hospital staff and police kill him. With all their economic rationalist efficiency and funding they kill a person in need. What a tragic indictment of the our Yes Minister hospital and law enforcement systems.

    It is the attitude of the doctors, coroners, lawyers, politicians, journos & police that have failed ordinary people.

    The conduct of the doctor who called for security/police and administered the 2 needles to lyji vaggs has to be challenged.

    Why did the doctor not call aboriginal workers at the hospital who were relatives of the deceased?

    The physical restraint by police and guards and chemical restraint by the doctor must have blocked lyji vagg’s airways and put a huge load on his heart.

    How else did he lose consciousness and die?

    Ian Curr

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