Veronica Nelson treated inhumanely for prison death, prison guard admits

CCTV footage shows Brown, nurse Atheana George and two other prison guards giving Nelson paracetamol through a cell door around 1:30 am. It was the last time the staff saw her alive.

During Brown’s night shift, the coroner learned that Nelson made nine other calls for help over the prison intercom, including the last two calls that Lacy described as “frightening” and “horrifying.” After 4 a.m., nothing more was heard from Nelson. Her body was found later that morning.

Ambulance staff thought she had been dead for a while.

When she first appeared on the witness stand Friday after a failed Supreme Court attempt to suppress her identity, Brown revealed she now felt she should have done more to help Nelson during her final hours.

Brown accepted that she had a duty of care to Nelson and should have checked in with the 37-year-old after the inmate stopped responding during her last intercom call. She also accepted that Nelson did not receive “adequate” medical care and was not treated humanely during her stay.

The jailer was also critical of the medical care provided to inmates and the condition in which some arrived at the Yarra unit. She said night nurses often refused to walk the 200 meters from the medical ward to the Yarra ward at night to see patients.

Prison officials are not allowed to call triple zero and senior staff should be contacted to do so in an emergency, Brown said.

An autopsy later found that Nelson had the undiagnosed medical condition, Wilkie syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening gastrointestinal condition.

Rishi Nathwani, who represents Nelson’s mother, was critical of Brown’s action and urged the jailer to conduct an internal review praising her actions.

Nathwani said in the review that Dame Phyllis Frost’s general manager, Tracey Jones, said she was “proud” of the way Nelson was treated in her final hours and that Brown “managed the intercom calls with care”.

Prison CCTV shows Tracey Brown, far right, along with Nurse Atheana George, along with Nurse Atheana George, the day of Nelson’s death around 1:30 am.

In the stands, Brown disagreed. Jones is due to testify next week.

Images and audio in this story have been released to the media with permission from the family. For 24/7 crisis support from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, contact 13YARN (13 92 76).

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