By Neda Vanovac
Teen inmate Dylan Voller says being hooded in a restraint chair and tear-gassed are the scariest things to have ever happened to him, and that he felt like he was “going to die”.
The 19-year-old inmate at Darwin’s adult prison is a key witness the royal commission into youth detention and child protection, and has spoken publicly for the first time, giving several hours of evidence.
Images of Voller hooded and shackled to a chair in an ABC Four Corners program were beamed into households across the country and pushed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to call for the investigation.
He said when restrained in the chair he felt completely defenceless.
“I was getting dizzy from panicking, I was getting agitated because the officer holding the camera was sitting there. He’d act nice and then turn the camera off and start trying to agitate me and then turn the camera back on,” he said.
“The feeling of not being able to do anything, those officers could have done anything to me for that three-and-a-half hours and I wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it.
“Fear of them having control … there was no responsible person who would have said, ‘that’s enough, we need to get him out of that restraint chair now, he’s been in there for too long’.”
He said he vomited in his mouth while hooded, and that he wet himself while restrained in the chair.
“Being put in a restraint chair was one of the scariest things that’s happened to me, that and the tear-gassing,” he said.
He said when he and five other detainees were gassed, he “felt like I was going to die”.
“My heart was racing … my eyes were burning, couldn’t hardly see properly.”
Voller read out a personal statement to the commission, saying the justice system as a whole was the problem.
He said judges sentenced people to serve jail time, and that they were additionally punished by abusive staff.
“As a victim and a young man I feel upset and let down by the system that these bad things were allowed to go on for so long,” he said.
“Young people need love and someone to talk to, not to be locked in a cell with nothing to do for days on end.”
In care from the age of 10
Voller’s lawyer previously told the commission he had been waiting six months to give his evidence, after Four Corners broadcast an episode on abuses within the Northern Territory’s youth justice system.
Dressed neatly in a suit, he was composed and articulate throughout his testimony as he outlined years of abuse and mistreatment.
Voller said his schooling ended when he was about 10. He had ADHD but was not permitted to attend school unless he took medication, which he said made him physically ill.
He was first sent into care at around the age of 10 in Alice Springs, where he said older boys introduced him to smoking marijuana and encouraged him to commit crimes with them.