News State Western Australia News Police treatment of Aboriginal woman ‘inhumane’

Police treatment of Aboriginal woman ‘inhumane’

Ms Dhu's death could have been prevented
There were emotional scenes outside the court after the inquest. Photo: AAP
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The West Australian coroner has ruled the treatment of Aboriginal woman Ms Dhu by police officers was “unprofessional and inhumane” before her death, and has agreed to release CCTV footage of her last hours in custody.

Coroner Ros Fogliani also ruled Ms Dhu’s death in custody could have potentially been avoided if her infection had been treated with antibiotics.

Ms Dhu, whose first name is not used for cultural reasons, died after being taken to hospital in August 2014 while being held at South Hedland Police Station.

She was taken into custody two days earlier because she had not paid $3622 in fines. It was the 22 year old’s first time in custody.

But outside court, Ms Dhu’s grandmother Carol Roe told WAtoday the family felt justice had still not been served after the Coroner failed to hold anyone accountable for Ms Dhu’s death.

She said the family would push for the police officers and medical staff who treated Ms Dhu to be charged.

“There’s still no justice for the family,” Ms Roe said.

“That’s our next step, we want justice, we want to go to court and get everyone accounted for.”

Her uncle Shaun Harris, who runs the Justice for Dhu Facebook and Twitter feeds, said he would share the “shocking and disturbing” footage with international racial justice campaigns, such as Black Lives Matter.

“We’ll definitely be tapping into our overseas networks and definitely be encouraging everyone to share, share and share as much as they can to make people aware not just of Ms Dhu but Aboriginal deaths in custody, to force custodial and judicial reforms,” Mr Harris said.

Ms Dhu was taken to hospital by police officers three times within 48 hours after complaining of feeling unwell and being in pain, and died on the third trip.

Ms Dhu appeared fragile, vulnerable and weak in the footage, the coroner said.
Ms Dhu appeared fragile, vulnerable and weak in the footage, the coroner said.

An autopsy found she died of septicaemia and pneumonia caused by an infection from a broken rib.

During the inquest, some police testified they thought Ms Dhu was faking illness and was coming down from drugs, while some medical staff also thought she was exaggerating.

WA Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan now acknowledges Ms Dhu “was not treated with the right level of compassion or dignity”.

Coroner Fogliani said Ms Dhu’s death was preventable as early as the day before she died, because she could have been treated with antibiotics.

Ms Fogliani said she was allowing the release of the CCTV tapes showing Ms Dhu at the police lock-up, but with footage of her arriving at the Hedland Health Campus redacted.

Some footage shows police dragging and carrying Ms Dhu’s limp body to a police van.

Another clip shows an officer pulling Ms Dhu by the wrist to sit her up before dropping her, causing Ms Dhu to hit her head.

The coroner has also called for the law to be changed so people can no longer be automatically imprisoned in lieu of non-payment of fines.

There were cries of “racism” and “shame on you” from the gallery in court after the coroner finished handing down her findings.

Earlier, Ruth Barson from the Human Rights Law Centre told reporters outside court that “the brutality of her death is inexcusable”.

Ms Barson said there had been a series of failures by police and hospital staff.

“She was treated in cruel and inhumane ways by those who had a duty of care to look after her,” she said.

“She was dismissed, ignored, neglected and denied her basic human rights.”

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Western Australia continues to have the highest Aboriginal imprisonment rates in Australia.


* The law be changed so people cannot be jailed for not paying fines, or that imprisonment be subject to a decision by a magistrate

* Every police station where detainees are held must have a dedicated lock-up keeper or two officers rostered for custodial care at any time

* All police based in areas of significant Aboriginal population receive cultural competency training to deal with specific issues, challenges and health concerns, and that the local Aboriginal community be involved in the training

* Parliament consider legislation to allow clinicians to provide police with sufficient medical information to manage a detainee’s care while in custody

* Fine defaulters who are incarcerated should be transported to the nearest prison within eight hours of their arrest, where the transport time does not exceed the detention period

* Police to call the Aboriginal Visitors Scheme when an offender is in a lock-up and when they are taken to a hospital. AVS is a group of Aboriginal staff who provide support and counselling to indigenous people in custody

* The lock-up procedure manual be amended to ensure more regular monitoring of a detainee who requires repeated hospital attendances, and that an unconscious or not easily rousable person be taken to hospital by ambulance

– with ABC

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