WA minister Paul Papalia defends actions after teen died in custody

The death of Indigenous teen Cleveland Dodd, who self-harmed in youth detention, has caused outrage.

The death of Indigenous teen Cleveland Dodd, who self-harmed in youth detention, has caused outrage. Photo: AAP

West Australian Corrective Services Minister Paul Papalia says he was acting on advice when he told reporters that a teenager was given first aid in a “matter of minutes” after self-harming  at an adult prison.

Officers discovered 16-year-old Cleveland Dodd in a cell at the Unit 18 youth detention facility at Perth’s Casuarina Prison in the early hours of October 12, after he contacted them through the intercom.

But their response time is being disputed. The ABC claims it took 16 minutes from the moment Cleveland called for help until the officers commenced CPR.

The report paints a dark picture of the events in Unit 18 before the teen was taken with critical injuries to a Perth hospital where he later died, causing outrage and calls for the facility to be closed.

It also raises questions about the handling of the incident by department and ministerial staff in the hours that followed the teen’s attempt to end his own life.

Papalia has defended his actions, saying he was only passing on the information handed to him.

“In the hours following the attempted suicide of Cleveland Dodd, I acted on available preliminary advice provided to my office,” he said in a statement on Monday.

“At the time, I acknowledged that information would be subject to an internal investigation to establish a more detailed and accurate account of events.

“That inquiry continues – as does a coronial inquest and (Corruption and Crime Commission) investigation and therefore I am unable to comment further at this time.”

Cleveland’s death is being investigated by the Department of Justice and the coroner and the CCC has also started inquiries following allegations of serious misconduct.

The corrective services commissioner has also been replaced and a prison officer has also been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation into Cleveland’s death.

Opposition spokesman for Corrective Services Peter Collier says Papalia needs to do some “soul searching” and it was “extraordinarily disappointing” that his version of events contradicts the ABC story.

He also said it was unlikely Papalia and the government hadn’t learned that it took longer for guards to respond to Cleveland’s call for help than initially reported.

Collier called on Papalia to correct the record and apologise.

“According to (Papalia) the guards responded within minutes,” he said.

“Clearly they didn’t, clearly there are some problems there.”

Greens MP Brad Pettitt said the situations was disturbing and alleged that corrections officers hadn’t taken Cleveland’s calls for help seriously.

“The reality of the series of blunders that led up to his death … paints a picture of a dishonest government trying to deflect and misrepresent the nature of the response,” he said.

“The lack of care for young people who are often held in solitary confinement for more than 22 hours per day and the failure to acknowledge the impact that this has on them is our state’s greatest shame.”

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