Gong Ling Tang ‘crawled from police cell, found in puddle’

A man released from custody who later died in hospital had asked police for medical help twice before he was found by paramedics lying in a puddle outside the station, the Coroners Court has heard.
Nanjing Night Net

Chinese national Gong Ling Tang, 53, died in hospital from a gastrointestinal haemorrhage in May 2010, hours after being released from custody at the Dandenong police station.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Rachel Ellyard, said on the first day of the inquest into Mr Tang’s death that he had been arrested after breaching an intervention order by visiting his wife at her house in Oakleigh.

He was drunk and had soiled himself when police found him a short distance from the house.

Police arrested Mr Tang for being drunk in a public place and planned to interview him about the alleged breach of the order when he was sober enough.

About 7.20pm, four hours after being placed in the cells, Mr Tang was interviewed through the metal flap in the cell door because of his soiled condition.

Ms Ellyard said there was blood in the cell and Mr Tang, speaking through a Mandarin interpreter, complained of abdominal pain and said he wanted to go home or to the hospital.

Mr Tang was released on bail but could not walk and crawled out of his cell before using the wall to help him stand.

Ms Ellyard said there was a “conflict” about whether arrangements had been made to transfer Mr Tang from the station.

Mr Tang was unable to leave the station by himself so was placed outside, barefoot, by two police about 8pm. He complained again of abdominal pain shortly afterward and an ambulance was called at 8.13pm.

Another call to the ambulance was made about 8.46pm by a police officer to report that Mr Tang’s condition had deteriorated and the ambulance arrived nine minutes later.

Paramedics found Mr Tang drenched in water and lying unprotected in a puddle.

At hospital he was found to be suffering from hypothermia and had severe liver failure. He died at 11.30am the next day.

Deputy State Coroner Iain West heard from Scott Johns, a lawyer representing one of the officers that Mr Tang’s death should not be considered a death in custody, which is the basis for the inquest, because it was due to an existing condition. This application was dismissed, but an application was granted allowing one of the officers not to give evidence on medical grounds.

Mr Tang had been admitted to hospital four or five times in the three years before his death because of the state of his liver, Deputy State Coroner West heard.

He also heard that Deputy Commissioner Tim Cartwright, who was in court, had submitted a letter from Victoria Police expressing “great regret about the circumstances” in which Mr Tang had died.

One of the officers who arrested Mr Tang and the sergeant supervising the shift, who also attended when Mr Tang was arrested, gave evidence at the inquest on Monday.

Both officers said that they did not consider asking Mr Tang if he had a medical condition even though they knew this was part of police procedure.

Senior Constable Bret Heisey had assessed Mr Tang, using a scale commonly used by police, as being confused, unable to confirm his name and address and being of a state where an officer should consider obtaining a medical opinion.

But he said that “he did not think it was necessary at that time” and did not think to ask if Mr Tang had a pre-existing illness.

“He never showed any signs of distress,” Senior Constable Heisey said.

Senior Constable Heisey left Mr Tang in the custody of police at Dandenong station.

Sergeant John Ballas said that he attended the call to a domestic disturbance as he believed the police region had only one spare unit available to respond.

He did not observe anything about Mr Tang that suggested “there was anything medically wrong with him at the time” he was arrested.

Kylie Weston-Scheuber, a barrister acting for Mr Tang’s family, asked whether Sergeant Ballas had considered that Mr Tang’s intoxication may be masking a medical condition, but he said that he would not request a medical assessment unless an offender had told him about a problem.

He had earlier said Mr Tang could not speak English.

Senior Constable Heisey will continue his evidence on Tuesday.

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