Underworld figure Hizir Ferman may have “progressively suffocated” to death when Victorian prison officers used their body weight to pin him to the ground after forcibly removing him from his cell, an inquest has been told.
Ferman, 35, died during an operation by anti-riot guards to extract him from his cell at the minimum-security Loddon Prison on July 28, 2016.
An inquest into the prisoner’s death was told he had earlier assaulted two guards before returning to his cell and refusing to communicate with prison staff.
Members of the specialist-trained Security and Emergency Services Group (SESG) were called in to transfer Ferman back to the maximum-security Barwon Prison.
In opening the inquest, counsel assisting the coroner Daniel Nguyen said prison staff sprayed tear gas through the only window in Ferman’s cell before forcibly removing him to a shower area to wash him down.
“Hizir was held … in the shower room by SESG applying their body weight to a riot shield on his back,” Mr Nguyen said.
“Hizir vomited and a member of the extraction team called out ‘code black’ before he was dragged to receive first aid from nursing staff waiting outside the accommodation block.”
He continued to be restrained while nursing staff administered oxygen and at some point, it was decided he should be shackled and fitted with a security belt in preparation for his transportation to Barwon Prison.
But the inquest heard that when he was sat up, he was visibly floppy and had no pulse.
Footage shows restraint of prisoner
Ferman had an extensive criminal history dating back to 1999 with convictions for armed robbery, violent assaults and firearm offences, and was linked to underworld boss Carl Williams.
He was cleared of charges relating to the murder of drug dealer Mark Mallia in 2007, a murder Williams was later convicted over.
The cause of Ferman’s death has not been determined.
The incident was filmed by prison staff in a video that has since been examined by the coroner and medical experts.
The recording begins from the start of the operation and runs until after efforts to resuscitate Ferman had failed.
Respiratory physician Louis Irving told the inquest there was no visible evidence in the footage that the tear gas had caused Ferman to stop breathing.
Instead, Dr Irving suspects Ferman was “progressively suffocated while being restrained” face down by SESG guards.
“The ability to breathe when you’re lying on your stomach is possible,” he said.
“But to breathe with your arms behind your back, with the shield across your back and at one stage it appears that someone was standing on the edge of the shield near Mr Ferman’s head.
“So that extra burden to breathe … can be significant and in this case I think it was significant.”
Dr Irving said Ferman appeared floppy and unconscious on the footage when he was removed from the shower area and treated by nurses.
“He’s not the same person who came out of the cell,” he told the inquest.
A number of Ferman’s relatives were in court for Monday’s hearing.
Coroner Rosemary Carlin told them she had read a statement written by Ferman’s sister and understood that although he had been in trouble with police, that he was a very loved member of their family.