A coroner has rejected a bid to delay an inquest into the suicide of a 30-year-old man at a West Australian prison, despite the family’s lawyer claiming crucial documents to assess the case were missing.
Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following story contains the name and image of a person who has died.
- Jomen Blanket died by suicide at Acacia Prison, a post-mortem found
- His mother alerted prison staff about his mental health, the inquest heard
- The coroner said it was in the public interest to proceed with the inquest
Jomen Blanket, 30, was found dead in his cell at Acacia Prison in June 2019.
Before the start of the first day of the coronial inquest on Tuesday, the family’s lawyer, Steven Penglis SC, submitted an application to adjourn proceedings due to the late disclosure of key documents and a lack of important material, saying it would impede on his ability to question witnesses properly, and obstruct the coroner from carrying out his duties.
Mr Penglis also raised issues about the witness list, citing the lack of an Indigenous culture expert, something he said was important due to Blanket’s Indigenous background.
The request to add the inquest was ultimately denied by Coroner Philip Urquhart, who said there was enough evidence and it was in the public interest to proceed with the inquest, given it would take at least a year for the court to set another date.
Family chasing ‘the truth’
Mr Penglis said there were several attempts made to alert prison staff about Blanket’s declining mental health, describing their response as “hopelessly inadequate”.
Outside court, Blanket’s mother Karen said it was disappointing to hear the coroner’s decision, and that she just wanted justice for her son, a father of three young children.
“He was a beautiful kid and soul, and we miss him,” she said.
“My family has now been waiting three long years for this inquiry to start so we can get the truth of how this was allowed to happen and hold the system to account.
“We’ve got evidence, good evidence, but we need more… it’s frustrating.
The court heard from the first witness, WA Police Senior Constable Nigel Foote, who investigated the death and provided a report to the coroner.
He detailed the prison cell where Blanket was found dead, describing how he saw an upturned bin with visible footprints and a bedsheet next to it.
Court told of self-harm, suicidal thoughts
The court heard about a number of incidents where Blanket attempted self-harm or expressed suicidal ideation, including hearing voices and hitting his head against his cell wall.
He was at times placed under hourly observations, and other times was observed two or three times an hour.
The inquest heard that in March 2019, Blanket told his cellmate he wanted to kill himself and told his mother he was thinking of ending his life, a concern she raised to a prison officer.
Blanket had also told several prison staff about wanting to take his life.
In May 2019, he was assessed by a psychiatrist for the first time.
The psychiatrist formed a view that Blanket was experiencing early signs of a psychotic illness, and planned to see him again the following week, but did not consider that he met the criteria for involuntary mental health treatment at the time.
Body found after cell move delayed
On the morning of June 12, a prison officer raised concerns about Blanket and attempted to contact mental health and psychological services, but could not reach anyone as staff were off-site attending a function.
She raised concerns about Blanket’s behavior with another staff member, who increased his observations and made arrangements to move him to a medical observation cell, but there were delays as they were occupied by other.
About an hour later, when the prison officer decided to check on Blanket because she was worried, she found him dead in his cell.
Social worker Michael Saligari told the coroner’s court Blanket had displayed concerning behavior that he noted since March 2019, including having conversations with the devil, hallucinating and seeing writing on his prison cell wall, telling him to do things.
Mr Saligari said Blanket had also talked about killing other prisoners and making a blood sacrifice, something he had seen in a movie.
He said he was concerned about Blanket and made a number of formal referrals to the mental health unit, but they were rejected.
The court also heard Blanket was “struggling spiritually”, but those issues were never discussed with Mr Saligari.
The inquiry is due to continue today.