'I can't breathe': Pat's final moments recalled

A Wollongong man who died after being restrained by police complained to them he couldn't breathe in the moments before his death, an inquest has heard.

Pat Morena told the two police officers pinning him to the ground "Get off me, I can't breathe" just minutes before he was handcuffed and found to have stopped breathing.

Giving evidence in Sutherland Coroner's Court, Senior Constable Brian Rice acknowledged he was kneeling on Mr Morena's back when the 34-year-old complained he couldn't breathe, but said he had "nothing more than 20 per cent" of his body weight on him at the time.

He, along with Senior Constable Robert Simpson, had restrained the 114-kilogram man after what Sen Const Rice described as the "most violent altercation" in his nine years' police service.

The court heard Mr Morena was subject to several "knee strikes" and a punch to the left side of his head as the officers tried to subdue him.

However the pair denied they were heavy-handed.

Barrister representing the Morena family Douglas Marr challenged Sen Const Simpson's account that Mr Morena went "berserk" when the two plain clothes officers confronted him in the car park of a Bulli unit block.

"Did you and Senior Constable Rice ... open the door, drag him from his vehicle and throw him up against the wall?"

"No," Sen Const Simpson replied.

Both officers gave evidence Mr Morena seemed "very strong" and did not appear to register any pain during the lengthy altercation.

Earlier the inquest heard Mr Morena was a mid-level methamphetamine dealer who was high on ice at the time of his death.

The inquest continues today.

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