Music festival inquest told police punched overdosing teen before death
A formal inquest into deaths at NSW-based music festivals has revealed some chilling insights.
Nathan Tran, who died from an overdose at Knockout Circuz in 2017, is one of several cases at the centre of the coronial inquest.
The 18-year-old was heard to have taken four MDMA capsules before collapsing at 10:20pm. Less than three hours later he had died.
As News Corp reports, the inquest heard conflicting views about how Tran was treated by security and police in the hours before his death.
CCTV tracked the final hours of the teen, who was seen as to be “freaking out” and “swinging his arms” in a seizure-like manner by witnesses.
One woman told the inquest that she saw a police officer grab Tran by the throat after he was surrounded by four officers.
“I saw him strike Nathan…” she said. “The crowd was tense. I saw him punch Nathan in the face.”
The officer, Detective Senior Constable Brenton Magee, disputed the claim, saying he put Tran into a headlock in an attempt to restrain him.
“I power-walked towards him, he was thrashing his head, I grabbed him with my right hand open above the clavicle and turned my body around and put my arm around him so my bicep is at the back of his neck, keeping his airways free,” said Magee.
“I used the right amount of force,” but admitted; “It might have looked like I punched someone but I most certainly did not.”
The woman, whose identity was suppressed, also revealed to the court earlier that day security made her feel like a criminal, even after she was found to have no drugs on her person.
She was identified by a drug dog and pulled out of the crowd. Despite insisting that she had no drugs on her, the security guard was intimidating and heavy-handed in their response.
“The dogs are never wrong so just tell me where the drugs are,” the security officer allegedly said.
The Guardian reports that NSW parliamentary documents revealed that of 1,124 strip-searches in 2017 as a result of positive sniffer dog indications, drugs were only found in 36% of cases.
The woman then revealed was forced to strip naked from the waist up.
The security officer then said; “If you don’t tell me where the drugs are, I’m going to make this nice and slow.”
The ordeal continued, and the woman was then forced to remove her shorts and underwear, before being repeatedly told to squat and cough.
The inquest also heard from the director of Q-dance Australia Simon Coffey, which runs the Defqon. 1 festival.
Coffey said he was “absolutely devastated” by the deaths of Diana Nguyen, 18, and Joseph Pham, 23, who died of MDMA overdoses at the 2018 festival.
Coffey pointed out that there were zero fatalities at Defqon.1 in Holland last month, which had over 150,000 attendees and no police presence.
“I’ve put on these events in western Sydney for 20 years and I’ve seen the results of the current system we have, and I’ve been going to Holland for the last 12 years … and you could pretty much guarantee that no one will die at a music event,” Coffey said.
Earlier this week, the inquiry heard that nineteen-year-old Alex Ross-King, who died at FOMO Festival on January 12, 2019, had panicked when arriving at the festival.
Friends told the court that Alex made the ill-advised and unplanned decision to take almost three pills at once, after seeing a huge number of police officers and sniffer dogs at the venue.
Before the festival was even over, Alex died of an overdose.
Revelations of intimidating security officers and overblown police presences at festivals may have come as a shock to those at the hearing, but for anyone who has attended NSW music festivals in recent years, it’s pretty much accepted as standard practice.
As Nathan Jolly wrote in his TMN column on June 11, there is clearly a problem with treating young drug users as criminals.
“It is treated as a criminal issue to be stamped out, not a health risk to be mitigated through intelligent, legally-available options and fact-based widespread public education,” he writes.
“The behaviour that sees young people continue to die at music festivals is not being helped by “anti-drug messaging that warns of the dangers in black and white terms”.
Yet harm minimisation techniques like pill testing, that have been proven in Europe and other developed countries, struggle to make it to the discussion table.