Media release 24 October 2012 for immediate release
Aboriginal death in Katherine after release from custody sparks calls for inquiry and justice
Another death of an Aboriginal man potentially involving police in the Northern Territory has sparked calls for an inquiry and urgent action to stop police harassment and brutality.
Mr E Lewis, a Warlpiri man living in Katherine, passed away shortly after being released from police custody on September 23.
Mr Lewis was a diabetic amputee, who was held in custody for more than 24 hours. He died in his sleep shortly after being released.
Family of Mr Lewis say there are many witnesses alleging he was treated roughly during his arrest, which occurred during a large card game in Katherine.
They also say that before his death, Mr Lewis had complained about being dragged and kicked in custody, along with being denied food, water and medication.
Mr Lewis’ sister Dorris is demanding a coronial inquiry to examine the circumstances of the death. She has been unable to find out the cause of death:
“We need for there to be a full inquiry into this death. It’s not enough for the police to be in charge of the investigation. We feel only with an inquiry will we see the truth. And we need to see the CCTV footage from the cell right now”, said Dorris Lewis.
“Many witnesses, non-Indigenous people too, have told our family that he was treated very roughly when he was taken into custody. He was dragged and thrown. They didn’t care that he only had one leg.”
“Before he passed away, my brother was telling his family that he had also been treated very roughly in the watch-house. He also said that he had not been fed or given drink or any medication. He could hardly sit up when he got home”.
“After he had struggled to eat some food he went to sleep and passed away.”
“We can’t just let this go. We believe that the police must be held responsible. Unless there is some justice, they will just keep treating our people like this. The responsible officers need to be sacked for how they treated my brother.”
“In 2004, we lost another family member from the police. They ran him over like a dog. All they did was pay some money and that was forgotten, no police got charged. This wouldn’t happen to a non-Indigenous person. We need justice to be done for these deaths or it will keep happening.”
“We don’t see that the police are here to keep Australia in peace, or keep our town safe. Some police are nice and doing a good, real job. But others are going around dragging and bashing Aboriginal people and mistreating whether they are drunk or sober. We feel that they are doing criminal things themselves but always get away with it. Why can’t we all treat each other with respect in this country and live as one?”, concluded Dorris Lewis.
Patricia Morton-Thomas, spokesperson for the family of Kwementyaye Briscoe, who died in police custody in January, has visited the family of Mr Lewis in Katherine. Ms Morton-Thomas has pledged to fight to uncover the truth about his death and see that justice is done:
“This is now the fifth death in suspicious circumstances involving police or corrections staff since 2009 and the body count is unacceptable. The Northern Territory government must do something urgently about the brutality and harassment that our people are experiencing at the hands of the police”.
“Despite what happened to my nephew, my families consistent calls for justice and for the police department to change their ways, they are ignoring us and continuing with their inhumane treatment of Aboriginal people.”
“We encourage all families who are victims of police brutality to join with us in the call for justice”, concluded Ms Morton-Thomas.
For more information contact:
Dorris Lewis 0467 044 795
Patricia Morton-Thomas 0432 612 105
Justice for Kwementyaye Briscoe – fact sheet
You can download this fact sheet here.
Kwementyaye had long suffered police harassment and brutality
- Kwmentyaye sustained a bad cut above his eye a few weeks before his death. His family say he was bashed by police.
- Kwementyaye had been taken into “protective custody” 31 times prior to his death. But he was never sentenced to prison.
Kwementyaye should never have been taken into custody
- Kwementyaye committed no crime the night he died. He was just sitting down drinking with friends in Flynn Park.
- Kwementyaye was chased by Constable Evans into the Centralian school.
- There were no grounds to take Kwementyaye into “protective custody”. Along with being drunk, police must believe you are a threat to yourself or others or may commit an offence. In a statement to police investigators, Evans claimed “(he was) going into the school, which has been a known hotspot in the Gillen area, I feared there was a likeliness to offences being committed in there.” But Evans chased him into the school!
- Facing another long night in the cells, Kwementyaye quickly drank more than half a bottle of rum smuggled into the paddy wagon by his friend. This is what took his intoxication to dangerous levels.
- The watch-house Standard Operating Procedure obliges police to fill out a form when “protective custodies” are taken into the cells, explaining why they can’t be taken home or to a Sobering Up Shelter. Evans failed to do this.
- Kwementyaye’s friends were unlawfully fingerprinted by the police in the watch-house.
Kwementyaye never recovered from a police assault
- Kwementyaye was manhandled in the watch-house by Evans, who slung him head-first into a counter, causing further bleeding from his eye.
- Kwementyaye was already very incapacitated, but after this assault he never regained consciousness.
- Kwementyaye was carried into an empty cell by three officers, who dumped him face down onto a mattress. After making some small movements and hitting his head again, Kwementyaye lay still. He later died in this position due to a blockage of his airways.
Kwementyaye died because of police negligence
- If he had been given medical attention, or even been moved into a more comfortable position which allowed him to breathe, Kwementyeye would not have died. But he was never given first aid or even basic care. Police cleaned his blood off the watchhouse floor but never cleaned or checked his wound.
- Police are obliged to conduct a health assessment of all people taken into custody. This never happened with Kwementyaye. After he was thrown into the cell, Constable Blansjaar fraudulently filled out a health assessment form without ever checking Kwementyaye.
- Other inmates consistently shouted out and tried to contact police to get medical assistance for Kwementyaye. But they were ignored and chastised by police.
- Recorded conversations show police knew Kwementyaye was in trouble. For example, Evans said, “Briscoe is fucking annihilated… I hope he is OK”. Constable O’Keefe said, “he’s cracked his head open… he just looks funny”.
- Police discussed whether to take Kwementyaye to hospital. Sargent McDonnell decided not to because he might have run away, “and we’ve got to chase him”.
- Despite being instructed to keep Kwementyaye under “close observations”, police did not conduct a single cell check between 11:30pm and 1:41am when Kwementyaye was found dead in his cell. Instead they surfed the internet and listened to an iPod. O’Keefe lied to senior police claiming he conducted regular checks.
- Coroner Cavanagh found:
“The cause of death was the combined effects of acute alcohol intoxication, positional asphyxia and aspiration, which ultimately obstructed the airways and led to death”.
“The care, supervision and treatment of the deceased while being held in custody by the NT Police was completely inadequate and unsatisfactory to meet his medical needs. This lack of care resulted in his death, that is to say, this death was preventable and it should not have occurred”
The actions of the Police breached the NT Criminal Code + must be prosecuted
- Under s149 of the NT Criminal Code, Police owe a duty of care to detainees.
- This duty obliges them to “provide the necessities of life” and “use reasonable care and take reasonable precautions to avoid or
prevent danger to the life, health or safety… and to take all reasonable action to rescue the person from such danger”.
- Police are in clear breach of this duty. As a result of their actions, a young man is dead. They may be guilty of negligent manslaughter. NT Department of Public Prosecutions must immediately review the case and lay charges against appropriate officers.
PLEASE NOTE CHANGE OF VENUE
STOP BLACK DEATHS IN CUSTODY
PROTEST 9:30AM FRIDAY OCTOBER 5 @ ANDY MCNEIL ROOM, TOWN COUNCIL BUILDING, ALICE SPRINGS
On Friday, the Country Liberal’s new Minister for Central Australia Robin Lambley will convene a forum with “key stakeholders” to discuss “all aspects of alcohol policy”.
The meeting is being held in response to recommendations by the NT Coroner Greg Cavanagh, following the death of Kwementyaye Briscoe in the Alice Springs watch house on January 5 this year.
Ms Lambley says, “the Coroner’s report into the death of Kwementyaye Briscoe will form the basis for discussions”.
None of the Briscoe family were invited to the meeting.
The Country Liberal Party’s key proposed alcohol reform is to criminalise public drunkenness, punishable by “mandatory rehabilitation” in two prison camps, one in Ti-Tree and one in Katherine, each holding 400 inmates.
In a statement below written on Monday October 1, family spokesperson Patricia Morton Thomas responds to Ms Lambley’s meeting, the Coroners recommendations and the unresolved issue of justice for her nephew:
I am insulted by the use of my nephews name and his memory to push the CLP government’s bullshit propaganda at this forum.
They say, “what a we going to do about the alcohol problem?” Let’s calls spade a spade – they mean “what are we going to do about the black problem?”
But what are they going to do about the police problem?
I would like to know what the Deputy Chief Minister is doing to change the culture of racism ingrained in the Northern Territory police force. The current attitude of the NT police force is on video, first shown at my nephews coronial inquiry, for the whole world to see. And thats only their behaviour when they know theres a camera on them!
If this continues their planned concentration camps for black drinkers will become death camps – I will say I told you so!
This year marks twenty five years since the Commonwealth initiated a Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody. Millions of dollars were spent and esteemed judges made many recommendations which have been ignored. Central to this was the finding that Aboriginal people should not be in watch houses or jail cells for being drunk (recommendations 79 – 84).
Is their opinion of these judges so low that they are going to plow ahead with their racist push for prison camps?
The Country Liberals are directly responsible for the alcohol crisis. In the 1980s when they were in government Aboriginal organisations in the NT saw what was coming and were screaming for limitations to be placed on licenses being dished out by this party, but they did nothing. This too was in breach of key recommendations from the Royal Commission (274 – 278)
Not to mention the escalating social trauma since the NT Intervention they started in 2007. Our assets have been stolen and thousands of jobs have been lost. Violent assaults in Alice Springs, mostly alcohol related, are up 49 per cent. Aboriginal incarceration has increased 70 per cent.
When they stop blaming the victims and start looking at the real issues of racist attitudes of government towards Aboriginal people, we might start moving ahead.
We welcome the findings of NT Coroner Cavanagh that the police were responsible for my nephews death.
But we condemn in the strongest terms his gutless recommendations which sought to slyly take the focus off the police conduct and evidence of systematic racism in the force and shift it to alcohol related social problems in Alice Springs. This has paved the way for the CLP to come charging in like bulls in a china shop with their racist policies.
I will be releasing a statement in regard to the evidence Cavanagh omitted and took creative license with in regard to his report.
To the many Aboriginal organisations and Aboriginal politicians that have my nephews death on their meeting agendas. I understand you are using his name to address alcohol issues in this town. This town has problems with alcohol that of course need to be addressed.
But when will you address the issue of police brutality and indifference to us as human beings? Im asking you to keep this as the focus. Did you see the coroners findings that the police were responsible?
Will you stand with my family and the other families whose members have suffered at the hands of the police in calling for justice? How many more deaths will it take for the power of your voice to join with ours?
PROTEST FRIDAY OCTOBER 5
9:30am outside Andy McNeil Room, Town Council Building, Alice Springs
Stop Black Deaths in Custody
Justice for Kwementyaye Briscoe
No to the CLP’s prison camps
A press conference will follow the protest. Patricia Morton Thomas will make a statement and be available to answer questions.