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Wiradjuri man Brandon Rich is being remembered as a "loving and caring man" by his family and friends as a coronial inquest into his death while in police custody, begins in Dubbo Coronial Court.
The 29-year-old died after losing consciousness during an altercation with New South Wales police at his home in Wellington on December 29, 2021.
The cause of death is unknown and the inquest will look into the circumstances leading up to his death, including a police altercation, use of oc spray and restraints.
On Monday, November 20, Mr Rich's mother Corina Rich described her son as a "soft giant, a big teddy bear", who will be remembered for his humour.
"Two days after Christmas I said goodbye to him, he gave me the biggest of cuddles and said 'I love you Mum', I said 'I love you son'. That was the last time I saw my son," she said.
"Brandon died on the floor in his own home...Brandon didn't deserve to die in such a cruel and painful way. I still get nightmares about it and wake up screaming."
Ms Rich said she doesn't want any other family to have to go through what her family has gone through.
"Knowing our loved one won't be coming home is heart-breaking and we live with this trauma day in, day out. We will never know what the future would've held for my beautiful son," she said.
"Aboriginal deaths in custody need to stop. My heart goes out to all the other families who have lost a loved one.
"A lot needs to change in the system. We need justice and accountability."
Before the legal proceedings began, Mr Rich's friends, family, magistrate Harriet Grahame and legal representatives came together for a smoking ceremony.
Magistrate Grahame thanked Mr Rich's family for inviting them to the ceremony and acknowledged the "profound grief" the family must be going through.
"We want to find out exactly what happened," she said.
Senior counsel Jane Needham opened the inquest, with Mr Rich's mother Corina and her fiance Troy, watching on tearfully from the public gallery.
His grandmother, sisters, family members and friends were also sat in the gallery watching on, supporting one another.
Ms Needham, SC, started her opening statement by expressing how the impact of Mr Rich's death was felt not just by his family but by neighbours, emergency responders, police, the Indigenous community and the community in Wellington and Dubbo.
Raised in a tight knit family, the court heard how Mr Rich found it difficult to cope with his grandfather's death.
"They did everything together, as Denise [his grandmother] said 'they were like two peas in a pod'," Ms Needham, SC, said.
Following his grandfather's death, Mr Rich moved in with his grandmother and continued to live there until his death.
Ms Needham, SC, told the court that Mr Rich had both mental health struggles and was known to use drugs, though none were found in his system at the time of his death.
"It seemed to have started after his pop's death...the family was worried about his mental health and it seemed that police and his family had difficulties dealing with him," she said.
Mr Rich had a criminal history laced with domestic violence related matters, including pushing his grandma one month prior to his death.
Ms Needham, SC, took the court through a timeline of the day of Brandon's death, including how the two police officers involved took handcuffs and batons, but not a taser, when they signed in for work at 6am on December 29, 2021.
The court was told that following an argument between Mr Rich and his grandmother Denise Rich early that morning, she left her house to go to Wellington police station, but with the station closed, she went to return home. When she saw police drive past her she flagged them down and asked them to visit her when they were finished with their current job.
At this time, Mr Rich had left his home and gone to visit his other grandmother in Wellington.
The court heard that at 11.51am police attended Ms Rich's home and were having a conversation with her on the front porch about taking out an apprehended violence order when Mr Rich returned.
Police wanted to take Mr Rich back to the station and allegedly tried to negotiate with him, but he refused. He allegedly ran away from police into the house where he tried to close the door on them.
Allegedly there was an altercation where a police officer used capsicum spray before Mr Rich abandoned the door and ran into the bathroom and attempted to escape via the bathroom window.
Unable to exit the window, Mr Rich was brought back into the corridor of the house, where police have tried to "control" him, by calling for back up by more officers.
The court heard three officers "wrestled" Mr Rich outside the bathroom, with one officer using a baton on his legs.
Ms Needham, SC, said the court will hear about attempts to handcuff Mr Rich, and how one officer observed he wasn't breathing and promptly removed the handcuffs.
Over police radio, officers were told "he's not breathing", before an officer started CPR and an ambulance was dispatched.
Paramedics attempted to revive Brandon, before taking him to Wellington Hospital where he died.
Listening to the opening statement, Mr Rich's mother burst into tears, holding her partner's hand while her daughter offered her comfort.
On Monday, December 20, Magistrate Grahame visited the house where Mr Rich's death occurred, to gain a better understanding of what legal representatives would be speaking about.
The inquest, which began on Monday, November 20, will resume at the Coroners Court in Dubbo on Tuesday at 10am.
It is expected to run for up to two weeks.
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