Four teenagers who were tear-gassed at Darwin’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in 2014 have won a civil lawsuit against the NT government over their mistreatment after the incident.
Justice Judith Kelly awarded $53,000 in total damages to the teenagers – three received $12,000 each, and one received $17,000.
The group filed the action against the government at the end of last year over an incident in August 2014 when the four were tear-gassed while guards tried to subdue a fellow detainee, Jake Roper.
The children were locked in their cells in the Behavioural Management Unit at the old Don Dale centre when the gas was sprayed into the area to overcome Roper, who had escaped his cell but was still in a secure area.
Lawyers for the four claimed the use of tear gas may have broken the Weapon’s Control Act, as there was no provision in any legislation for the use of the gas in juvenile detention facilities.
But Justice Kelly found the use of the gas has been “reasonable and necessary”, and that guards had no other reasonably available option to use less force, without risking the safety of detainees and staff.
The detainees had also made a claim for damages based on the presence of marshalling guards in riot uniforms and attack dogs, but Justice Kelly said this had not “intentionally exposed them to battery”.
“The plaintiffs were all locked in their cells; they could see and hear what Jake Roper was doing and must necessarily have known why the prison officers and the dog were present,” Justice Kelly’s judgement said.
“There were no ‘attack dogs’ as alleged by the plaintiffs – only one trained corrections dog under the control of its handler.”
The detainees also made allegations about other instances of assault and battery that occurred when they were taken to the adult prison in shackles and spit hoods after the gassing.
Damages were awarded for “acts of battery” which consisted of placing spit hoods on each of the detainees, shackling their legs, and handcuffing their hands behind their backs.
Justice Kelly found while it was reasonable that all four detainees were handcuffed in order to be transported to the adult prison, their hands should not have been cuffed behind their backs.
“In addition to handcuffing the plaintiffs behind rather than in front, the defendant wrongfully applied shackles and a spit hood to each plaintiff,” Justice Kelly said.
“I have no doubt that this would have caused the plaintiffs considerable distress and humiliation, especially as youths being marched past adult prisoners.”
First of many civil cases against government
This case was the first of three separate civil actions brought by former Don Dale prisoners.
Dylan Voller – the teenager shown strapped to a chair in an image which has been seen around the globe – and Jake Roper are also suing the NT government over their treatment.
A class action has also been launched for other former detainees in the Federal Court.
That action was delayed until May amid questions of which court has jurisdiction over the matter.
Lawyers involved in the class action believe it could be years until the class action reaches a trial.