Cop used neck hold ‘for first time’ before Indigenous man’s death, inquest told

Tylarr Colman told an inquest he put Steven Lee Nixon-McKellar in a lateral vascular neck restraint.

Tylarr Colman told an inquest he put Steven Lee Nixon-McKellar in a lateral vascular neck restraint. Photo: AAP

An inquest into the death of an Indigenous man has heard a police officer used a neck restraint technique for the first time just before the arrest turned fatal.

Steven Lee Nixon-McKellar, 27, died shortly after having pressure applied to his neck while a senior constable arrested him outside a relative’s house in Toowoomba on October 7, 2021.

Mr Nixon-McKellar’s family requested he be referred to as Steven during the Coroner’s Court hearings, which started at Toowoomba on Monday.

Senior Constable Tylarr Colman on Monday told the first hearing of the coroner’s inquest at Toowoomba courthouse that he placed Steven in what is officially known as a lateral vascular neck restraint (LVNR) within five seconds of spotting him struggling with two officers.

Two other officers had responded to an anonymous phone call about a grey Subaru SUV displaying another vehicle’s number plate outside a house in Toowoomba.

“Given both officers were completely fatigued I didn’t have many other options,” Colman said.

Under questioning from counsel assisting, Julie Pietzner-Hagan, Colman said he had completed training in the LVNR technique one month before but had used a different neck restraint called a choke hold in his personal martial arts activities.

“I found it quite strange for him to go unconscious that quickly as that hadn’t happened in training scenarios,” Colman said.

The inquest heard the difference between the holds was the LVNR put pressure on the sides of the neck to constrict the flow of blood to the brain while the choke hold pressured the windpipe and blocked the flow of air.

One of the officers needing assistance, Senior Constable Simon Giuliano, testified earlier in the day he yelled “choke this c— out, choke him out” and “he’s asleep” when the hold was applied to Steven.

Steven was later unable to be resuscitated by paramedics because his throat was obstructed by vomit.

Steven’s family and friends were warned by State Coroner Terry Ryan the officer’s body-worn footage to be played at the inquest could be upsetting but many chose to stay.

“I have to see what they done to my grandson, they have got to be stopped,” a woman in the public gallery said.

Solicitor for the Nixon-McKellar family, Stewart Levitt, suggested to Colman that he had mistakenly applied the hold to Steven and had caused his death instead of subduing him.

“Definitely not, I did not lose position on the LVNR,” he said.

Giuliano also disagreed with Levitt’s suggestion he and another officer, Constable Brandon Smart, had treated Steven as “less than a person” by assuming he had committed a crime and tried to physically constrain him for no reason.

Smart, who was sworn in as an officer in 2018, said he approached the driver’s side of the vehicle and yelled for its occupants to get out because he thought the SUV would ram their police van.

Footage showed Steven wrestling with both officers and trying to grab their batons.

“I struck him in the quad with my baton to achieve compliance and it was not effective so I wrapped the baton around in a bear hug and, as he was larger than me, it was not effective,” Smart said.

Under cross-examination by Levitt, Smart denied his bear hug had prevented Steven from complying with directions to get on the ground.

Speaking outside court, Steven’s mother Raelene said she hoped the inquest would lead to accountability for the officers and Queensland following other states to ban the LVNR.

“One of the things we showed up for this week is to find out why my son was pursued with such aggression with no further information,” Nixon said.

About 40 people gathered outside the courthouse before the start of proceedings for a Black Lives Matter rally to mark 551 Indigenous deaths that organisers say have died in custody since a royal commission made its recommendations in 1991.

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