Wollongong drug suspect 'went berserk'

When Pat Morena left Wollongong police station on November 8, 2012, he had no idea he was under police surveillance.

Less than an hour later, he was lying lifeless outside a Bulli unit block following a drug-fuelled confrontation with two police officers.

Despite the best efforts of police and paramedics, the 34-year-old was unable to be revived.

Yesterday Sutherland Coroner's Court heard how Mr Morena, described by police as a "mid-level" supplier of methamphetamine, was targeted by senior constables Robert Simpson and Brian Rice in a surveillance operation on the day of his death.

The operation - which immediately turned into a physical scuffle when the officers confronted Mr Morena - ultimately led to Mr Morena being restrained face-down on the ground, with Snr Cnst Rice kneeling on his back and Snr Cnst Simpson holding his legs.

Accounts of a violent, drug-affected man jarred with the memories his mother Sarina cherishes; memories of a young man who lived with and looked after his elderly grandmother.

"He was a caring, beautiful boy - I never saw that side of him," Mrs Morena told the Mercury outside of court yesterday.

"To us, he was our angel, he was a good person."

Yesterday, counsel assisting the coroner, Ms Sophia Beckett, told the court the four-day inquest will look into the method of restraint used by police, as well as Mr Morena's drug use.

A toxicology report indicated the Wollongong man had 0.31 MG/L of amphetamine and 3.8 MG/L of methamphetamine in his system at the time of his death, Ms Beckett said.

Police also found another 13.34 grams of ice in 24 resealable bags on his body.

Day one of the inquest heard the self-employed plumber and tiler, who was on bail for domestic violence and resisting arrest charges, was followed by field intelligence officers after he reported to Wollongong police station at 7.30pm as a part of his bail conditions.

Concerned Mr Morena was dealing drugs, the officers observed him drive to a Smith Street address before following him to the car park of a unit block in Gwyther Avenue, Bulli.

There, they made the on-the-spot decision to approach him as he sat in his white, flat-top ute, despite the fact they were in plain clothes, without their appointments and, in Snr Cnst Rice's case, on restricted duty due to a disc injury.

Yesterday, Snr Cnst Simpson described to the court Mr Morena's reaction to being confronted by police.

"He just went berserk, I can't explain it any other way," Snr Cnst Simpson said.

"When he got out of the vehicle, he started frothing at the mouth and grunting."

Snr Cnst Simpson went on to detail the 2-4 minute scuffle that ensued, in which the officers struggled to subdue Mr Morena.

He was eventually restrained and cautioned, then handcuffed when back-up arrived.

The court heard Mr Morena was known to police for drug supply, possession and resisting arrest, and had been classified as a "medium level" high risk offender because of his criminal history.

The inquest continues under Deputy State Coroner Hugh Dillon today.

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