Dixon spent more than 30 hours in waist restraint

  • 28/08/2012

By Dan Satherley

An inquest into the prison death of Antonie Dixon, one of New Zealand’s most notorious killers, has heard of his inconsistent behaviour leading up to his death.

Dixon managed to strangle himself on February 4, 2009, despite being in Paremoremo Prison's high-risk unit.

In the days leading up to his death, Antonie Dixon spent at least 30 hours bound in a waist restraint that was only supposed to be used temporarily while escorting prisoners.

Grace Smit was manager of Auckland Central Remand Prison (ACRP) at the time of Dixon’s incarceration there from late 2008 until he was transferred to Paremoremo on February 2, 2009.

She says of the 800 prisoners she looked after, only “three or four” came to her attention as often as Dixon.

On the morning of February 1, a Sunday, Dixon tied a section of his gown around his neck. He was immediately put in a waist restraint, which officers said was the only precaution to stop him from harming himself. Regulations did not generally allow for use of the waist restraints except for escorting prisoners.

Ms Smit says she was not made aware of the incident until Monday.

She returned to ACRP on Monday afternoon, where Dixon had again been put in a waist restraint. That morning Dixon was banging his head against his cell door, and it was too dangerous for a nurse to attend to him.

Ms Smit says she believes putting Dixon in the restraint was the right decision, as was observing Dixon only via the in-cell camera, as every time someone approached the cell Dixon would get highly agitated.

The decision was made to transfer Dixon to Paremoremo’s at-risk unit. About half an hour later he was escorted to the transport vehicle.

Ms Smit says she should have been told on the weekend Dixon had been put in a waist restraint, and would have transferred him sooner had she known, so he could be put in a tie-down bed. She says staff in charge on the weekend were “wrong” to assume organising a transfer on a weekend would be too difficult.

She says Dixon was not the usual type of prisoner dealt with at ACRP, and the officers who decided to put him in a waist restraint did seek proper authorisation, even if it wasn’t a conventional use of the restraint.

The restraints are designed to go over clothing, but Dixon insisted on wearing it whilst naked, resulting in the abrasions noted by others giving evidence at the inquest. He spent over 30 hours wearing the restraint, which Ms Smit described as “excessive”. Coroner Garry Evans described the length of time Dixon spent in the restraint “unlawful”.

Ms Smit admitted that while in a waist restraint, Dixon would have still been able to bash his head against the wall or door.

“Even if we had placed a head protector on Mr Dixon, it’s likely he would have been able to remove it, even in the waist restraint,” says Ms Smit.

Claims Dixon deliberately not fed

Penny Bright, speaking on behalf of Antonie’s brother Julian Dixon, suggested to Ms Smit that Corrections staff deliberately withheld food and water from Dixon to weaken him.

Ms Bright says there is no evidence staff delivered meals to Dixon.

Dixon spoke of his fears prison staff were going to kill him on the day he died.

A post-mortem on Dixon’s body showed elevated levels of acetone, linked to Dixon’s reluctance to eat, drink or regularly accept medication in the days preceding his death.

When told by Coroner Garry Evans to “move on”, Ms Bright explained she was trying to get to the “truth” in an “open and democratic” court. Mr Evans told her this was in direct contrast to Julian Dixon’s plea yesterday for the inquest to be held in private.

After several more questions which Mr Evans said weren’t relevant, Ms Bright ended her questioning.

Inmates known to rip “unrippable” blankets

Brian Vivendra Singh, manager of the Auckland Prison (Paremoremo) at-risk unit at the time of Dixon’s death, says prisoners have on many occasions been able to rip the “unrippable” blankets and gowns in their cells.

Coroner Garry Evans ruled the method by which prisoners rip the blankets can not be published.

Staff at Paremoremo did not see Dixon create the ligature. He had covered the CCTV camera in his cell with wet toilet paper around 3:30 or 4pm, at least five hours before his death. It was not cleared until staff entered the cell around 9pm.

Mr Singh, who was not on duty the evening of February 4 when Dixon died, says the camera in Dixon’s cell should not have been left obscured for so long.

Officers wouldn’t enter the cell unless at least four of them were present, as Dixon was unpredictable.

Mr Singh, giving evidence at the coronial inquiry into Dixon’s death, says he was not aware the camera had been obscured when he left work around “4:30 or 5pm”.

“If I had known this I would have talked to him and told him to clear the camera,” says Mr Singh.

If unsuccessful, Mr Singh says he either would have got a team of four Corrections officers to enter the cell and clear the camera, or got staff on duty to do physical checks every 15 minutes.

Since 2009, the policy at Paremoremo has changed. Now, if a prisoner’s camera is obscured, a staff member will observe the prisoner continuously until it can be cleared.

From 5pm, Dr Singh says CCTV footage from outside the cell shows the staff member on duty that night, who cannot be named, started checking on Dixon more frequently than is normally required. At the final check done at 8:45pm, the officer is seen giving Dixon a “thumbs up”.

This was only five minutes before Dixon was seen - by the same officer - with the ligature around his neck.

The inquest heard yesterday that using the ligature Dixon fashioned, it would only have taken three minutes for significant brain damage to occur and four-to-five minutes for death.

Mr Singh says the officer was right to wait until three other officers had arrived before opening the door to Dixon’s cell, despite the fact he was seen to be lying on the ground, apparently strangled.

“Mr Dixon was not immobilised at the time, and he was known to be violent and acting impulsively,” says Mr Singh.

“It was not unknown for prisoners to fake a disturbance to create an opportunity to assault or take staff hostage “We also had prisoners who would do this just as a joke or to scare staff. Mr Dixon had a history.”

Mr Singh says he and Dixon “got on quite well”, and he had developed a rapport with the prisoner while he was at Paremoremo, before his conviction was quashed in September 2007.

The inquest into Dixon’s death is in its second day.

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