Bulli arrest death: man had heart trouble

Police officers stand outside the flats where Pat Morena died after a struggle with officers.
Police officers stand outside the flats where Pat Morena died after a struggle with officers.

A Wollongong man who died as he was being restrained by police had clutched at his heart a week earlier, apparently suffering chest pains, a court has heard.

Pat Morena was a heavy smoker who had gained weight and grown prone to sleeping heavily, for long periods, in the lead-up to his death on November 8, 2012.

His partner, Lauren Freeman, yesterday told Sutherland Coroner's Court how she saw him inexplicably in tears as he walked her to her car a week earlier.

"I said, 'it's your heart, isn't it?' He just nodded … I wish now I'd stayed home and taken him [to the doctor]."

Described by police in earlier evidence as a "mid-level" supplier of methamphetamine, Mr Morena died outside a Bulli unit block after a violent, drug-fuelled altercation with police, who struggled to subdue him.

He was restrained face down on the ground, with one officer kneeling on his back and another holding his legs.

During the third day of the inquest yesterday, talk from the witness box turned to the restraint techniques taught to the state's police officers.

Acting Sergeant William Watt, of NSW Police Force's Weapons and Tactics Policy and Review Unit, told the court that officers were taught to support the bulk of their own weight when pinning a suspect in the prone position, and were made aware of the potential for positional asphyxiation as part of mandatory training.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Sophia Beckett, asked: "Would you agree that in the context of a struggle that one's attention may not be completely focused on the distribution of one's weight?"

"I'd agree completely," Sgt Watt said.

Mr Morena was visiting the home of Lauren Eagar when he was approached by police.

Ms Eagar was leaving the unit complex to greet Mr Morena when she heard the scuffle, describing it as sounding "like a basketball game".

"I said, 'who's that?', and Pat yelled back instantly - 'Lauren help me', then it went quiet," Ms Eagar said.

A neighbour, Katherine Wills, witnessed some of the encounter from a gap between two fence palings after she was roused by a "very loud, animalistic growling noise".

She said she heard police addressing Mr Morena by his first name, apparently trying to calm him.

"I heard … words to the effect of 'calm down, calm down'," Ms Wills said. "The voice sounded firm - but with a touch of warmth in it."

The inquest continues before Deputy State Coroner Hugh Dillon today.