A search of Rebecca Lyn Maher would have required police to use "force" despite the 36-year-old behaving in a cooperative manner, one of the officers who took Ms Maher to Maitland police station the morning she died has told an inquest in Newcastle.
Senior Constable Elizabeth South told the court on Wednesday she chose not to search Ms Maher on July 19, 2016, before the Wiradjuri woman died of mixed drug toxicity in a cell.
Senior Constable South said her decision came after a warning from Sergeant Nathan Brooks that Ms Maher had Hepatitis C and was HIV positive - though the court heard last week that neither was the case at the time.
She said Ms Maher was "projectile splattering" saliva as she spoke.
"If I was to conduct a search, we would have had to dramatically escalate the situation," she said.
"To conduct a search, we would have had to use force."
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Senior Constable South described how police use force to conduct a search in a situation where a person is either biting or intentionally spitting, but the officer agreed Ms Maher was not projecting saliva on purpose.
She said force involved two officers, with one using a forearm to "pin the face" of the person subject to the search, sometimes against a vehicle or other surface.
She agreed Ms Maher was being co-operative and that she could have asked her to turn her face away, but said she believed people's behaviour "could change in a moment". The court heard Senior Constable South believed she may have been pregnant at the time - she gave birth eight months later - and was concerned about the possible affect contact with an infectious disease could have on an unborn child.
Barrister William de Mars, representing Ms Maher's family, asked Senior Constable South whether she would do anything differently now, if presented with a similar situation.
"I would have conducted a search, but to do that I would have had to escalate the situation and use force," she said. "But knowing what I know now, I would have searched her at the scene."
The court heard last week that Ms Maher had two pill bottles, containing a total of more than 30 benzodiazepine tablets, in the cell with her when she died.
Senior Constable Laurie Coleman, who was Senior Constable South's work partner the morning police picked up Ms Maher on Wollombi Road, began his time in the witness box on Wednesday afternoon. He will continue on Thursday.
Ms Maher's supporters took part in an emotional rally before the eighth day of the inquest began.
“Had the police taken her to a hospital rather than a police station, she would be alive today,” one supporter, Tracey Hanshaw, said.
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