Mystery remains in Baxter death

Mystery remains in Baxter death

A coronial inquest into the death of Indigenous trans woman Veronica Baxter that had been slated to run for two days wrapped up in hours and supporters say their questions remain unanswered.

By 2.30pm on Monday, Deputy State Coroner Paul MacMahon was ready to hand down his findings.

He ruled that Baxter had died by hanging at Silverwater jail between 3pm on March 15 2009 when she was locked in her cell and 6am on March 16 2009 when the cell was opened, that no third party had been involved, and that police and corrective services officers had fulfilled their responsibilities to her.

The court heard that on March 14 2009, Baxter had been screened by a corrective services officer who found her to be “smiling, happy, talkative”.

“[The corrective services officer] concluded that there were no signs here suggesting that Veronica was at risk of doing herself harm,” MacMahon said.

Baxter, who had been imprisoned before, was also assessed as at low risk of self-harm by police and when first transferred to Corrective Services custody.

Baxter told them she had “hope for the future”, no history of self-harm, and no plans to harm herself.

Ten inmates who were interviewed by a police investigator about Baxter’s mental state indicated that she “appeared to be angry about something [but] there were no indications that suggested that she intended to kill herself”.

Baxter had made a number of calls to prison staff using the emergency ‘knock-up box’ in her cell while locked into her cell but no one at the prison could remember who had answered them or what she had wanted.

In his one recommendation, MacMahon suggested that, in future, Corrective Services keep records of such calls and who responded to them.

He was also concerned that Baxter had apparently been able to hang herself using prison furniture and endorsed suggestions that furniture be further improved to remove hanging points.

Ray Jackson of the Indigenous Social Justice Association told the Star Observer that it was “a sham and a shame” that the only witnesses called had been police and corrective services officers.

Jackson and sexless activist norrie mAy-welby, who knew Baxter, said they had wanted the inquest to examine why Baxter had come to be suicidal when indications were that earlier she had not been.

They wanted to know whether Baxter had been given access to hormone medications taken by transpeople while in custody.

“She may have been withdrawing from hormones, which is a serious thing,” mAy-welby said.

Withdrawal of hormone treatment has been known to cause distress in some people.

NOTE: Legislation prevents the publication of any coronial proceedings after a coroner has found the cause of death was suicide, unless a coroner makes an order allowing publication. The coroner made this order on Thursday, after speaking with Veronica Baxter’s family.

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