Police attempted to pursue Indigenous man Kunmanara Cooper in 2017, but he waded into the sea and drowned.
Police attempted to pursue Indigenous man Kunmanara Cooper in 2017, but he waded into the sea and drowned.

Search for answers in Indigenous man’s drowning in custody

An Aboriginal man was trying to escape police when he drowned 200m off the Ceduna foreshore, the Coroner's Court has heard.

Kunmanara Cooper had been in Ceduna for treatment of an ulcerated finger in January 2017 when he came to the attention of police in relation to several assaults.

He was walking on the foreshore with a green plastic bag in one hand, attached by a bandage to his wrist, when police started to pursue him.

He was later seen wading into the water before appearing to struggle, but a rescue search could not find him.

The next morning, the plastic bag was seen floating several hundred metres offshore, leading police and SES to his body.

Deputy Coroner Anthony Schapel commenced the mandatory inquest into Mr Cooper's drowning as it is considered a death in custody.

Counsel assisting the coroner Stephen Plummer said the 36-year-old had only been in Ceduna for six weeks before his death.

"Mr Cooper lived predominantly in Wingellina in WA but had spent time living in Yalata and in the APY lands in South Australia," he said. "He was described by his sister as a good swimmer who swam a lot in the rock holes near Wingellina."

Mr Cooper was arrested in Ceduna on January 14, 2017 for illegal interference and other property offences. He was bailed that day on the condition that he live in the indigenous camp outside Ceduna until January 16, when he was to return to Yalata by bus.

He was banned from being in Ceduna unless he was there for medical attention or court appearances but was spotted on January 19 in the township.

The next day, he was suspected of assaulting a man but fled police when they tried to interview him. He was treated in hospital for cuts to his hands thought to have been suffered during the chase but left without seeing a doctor.

At 6pm on January 21, police received reports that Mr Cooper was walking along the foreshore. A patrol attended and one officer began to pursue him on foot.

The officer saw Mr Cooper walking along a rocky part of the beach before wading into the water at 6.22pm.

Police immediately called the SES requesting a boat to assist in the search.

Two minutes after entering the water, Mr Cooper was seen 200m offshore shouting for help and waving his arms.

An SES volunteer had his boat in the water within 20 minutes of the first call for help but Mr Cooper's body was not found until the next morning.

Mr Plummer said blood tests showed traces of cannabis and alcohol in Mr Cooper's system when he died.

The court also heard that the deceased had an extensive criminal history covering 423 offences.

Originally published as Search for answers in Aboriginal man's drowning