|The following examples of individual deaths in Police Custody are part of a kit published by "Action for World Development - A Christian movement of people for Justice and Peace" in 1986.|
|These cases and 94 others were investigated by the Royal Commission
into Black Deaths in Custody (1980-1991).|
|See "Black search for meaning" by Colin Tatz, from "the Age" 5/1/96 for a good summary of the Commissions findings, and which of its 339 recommendations have been acted upon since 1991. |
Within one hour of being picked up by the police on June 12, 1981, Eddie Murray, 21, of Wee Wan in country NSW, was dead. He was found hanging in his cell by a piece of prison blanket, his knees slightly bent, his feet touching the floor.
Police claimed Eddie suicided. Medical evidence was that Eddie's blood alcohol level at the time of his death was 0.3. The coroner recorded an open verdict on the death in Wee Waa cells of Eddie Murray.
He found Murray died by hanging, at the hand of 'person or persons unknown".
He said there was no evidence that Murray took his own life. Only police had keys to Eddie's cell.
Eddie had been taken to police cells by police using their 'discretion' under the Intoxicated Persons Act (1979). If the purposes of the Act are to minimalise drunkenness and to protect the intoxicated person, why did Eddie die locked in a cell, like a convicted criminal?
On the night of September 28, 1983, in Roeburne, W.A., five off-duty police arrived at the Victoria Hotel after a social night of drinking at a local golf club. One of the officers verbally abused an Aboriginal man waiting to be served at the bar. This man, Ashley James, was followed out of the hotel where one of the policeman knocked him to the ground. James retaliated and an all out fight began with the off-duty police. People who tried to help him or rescue him became involved.
One such rescuer was John Pat. He was trying to pull Ashley James away from the fight. As he did so, a policeman walked up to him and punched him in the mouth. A witness testified that John Pat "fell back and didn't get up. I heard his head hit the road'.
The fight was over after fifteen minutes when police reinforcements arrived with a van. Despite his concussed and senseless condition witnesses stated that John Pat was picked up by the hair and kicked in the face. They also testified that they saw a policeman kick him. Residents who live nearby, and prisoners, testified that police systematically beat six others including the unconscious John Pat.
Dr John Hinton, a forensic pathologist, found that Pat had died of head injuries which caused a brain haemorrhage. He had received 10 blows to the head; and half a dozen bruises above his right ear. His lips were cracked and there were scratches on his face. Apart from the head injuries, Pat had two broken ribs and a tear in the aorta, the major blood vessel leading from the heart.
What followed after John's death has all the classic features of a police cover-up. John Pat's body was washed before the police scientific photographers took pictures. The body's position was changed.
During the inquest, Detective Sergeant Scott admitted under cross-examination that it appears Roeburne Police had deliberately falsified the police records.
Robert Joseph Walker died on the morning of Tuesday. August 28, 1984, while a prisoner in Freemantle prison, Western Australia, eleven months to the day after John Pat's death. Robert was 25 years old.
At about 4a.m. on that morning, prison officers went to move Robert from his cell after noticing that he had cut his wrists. When Robert emerged onto the landing outside his cell and saw a prison officer standing there holding a gun he screamed, "They're going to kill me. Murder, murder." At this point, other prisoners awakened and witnessed a "brutal and unlawful assault" on Robert which resulted in his death.
The bulk of the 20 minute long assault took place on a grassed area overlooked by and in full view of a large number of cells. After some 17 minutes on the lawn, the medical orderly administered an injection of the drug Largactil; Robert s body went limp, and he was handcuffed and carried away. At 5.15a.m., Dr David Bockman, prison doctor. pronounced that "life was extinct".
First official statements. not forthcoming till some 12 hours after the death, made no mention of the prisoner allegations. The prison officers involved were back on night duty the following night and were not ever subjected to police questioning. The prisons department put out stories in the mainstream press first of suicide, then of Largactil overdose, and on September lst and 2nd, a 'mystery illness' as the cause of death.
A post mortem conducted on the day of death by Dr Pocock, State forensic pathologist, did not find the cause of death and described only minor injuries to the body in highly technical and thus mystifying language.
A second autopsy conducted in Adelaide found that Robert had died from 'acute brain damage due to an obstruction of the blood supply to the brain caused by compression of the neck.
Dr Manock, responsible for the finding, demonstrated a strong element of "professional colleagueship" in his relationship with Dr Pocock. They exchanged several phone calls before and after the second autopsy and at the inquest into Robert's death before Coroner David McCann, both testified in agreement that the injuries to the body were consistent with force of a "restraining nature", that Robert had most likely been strangled by a kind of headlock in the course of duty.
However, on cross examination, Manock conceded that he couldn't exclude at all that the injuries to the body, including the fatal injuries, were caused by numerous baton blows, kicks and punches as described in the very consistent evidence from 41 prisoner witnesses at the inquest.
After a delay of months, McCann found that 'the death arose by way of Misadventure' i.e. "death caused by another unintentionally and in the course of doing something lawful".
Significantly. four of the five prison officers involved declined to give evidence at the inquest; the fifth, Holbourne, gave evidence after having been granted immunity from prosecution.
On October 9. 1984 at 10.30 p.m. Dr Alan Newnham, Medical officer for Barton Mill Prison (W.A.) received a telephone call informing him of a prisoner's death.
Charlie Michael died flat on his face with four prison officers kneeling on him and pinning down his arms and legs. He was in handcuffs and an officer's trouser belt was tied around his ankles. Charlie's own belt was used to lash his hands from behind to his feet. A standard issue baton (used as a windlass) was twisted around the belt, tightening the belt until his hands almost touched his feet. The struggle, in the narrow doorway of a cramped office. lasted about 40 minutes.
The Perth Coroner, David McCann, found that Charlie Michael had simply died of a heart attack. Dr Newnham, Prison Medical Officer, stated during the Coroner's court "I believe that the effect of struggling almost certainly precipitated a major cardiac arrhythmia which resulted in his immediate death". The same court was also told that Charles Michael had no previous medical record of a heart problem.
Mr Rob Riley, the then chairperson of the National Aboriginal Congress, and President of the Aboriginal Legal Service, NU Ivan Yarran, attacked the circumstances of Michael's death. They pointed out that if Michael had died of a heart attack, it was strange no medical aid was given.
Dixon Green, from Kununurra in far northwestern Australia, died in Broome Regional Prison on November 19, 1985.
An autopsy conducted by government pathologist, Dr Hilton, concluded that his death was the result of a heart attack.
The Green family, however, are not convinced as Dixon's body showed signs of a violent struggle. His brother, Ken Green, says, "We found (Dixon's) front teeth knocked out, top and bottom and sand in his mouth. We also found a red mark around his neck ... There was nothing about missing front teeth in the government pathologist's report. I saw him just after he died and he looked like he had been in a fight. One eye was bruised and that wasn't in the report either."
Given the doubt surrounding the case, Green's family and friends demanded that a second post mortem be carried out by a private forensic pathologist. But unfortunately there is no forensic pathologist in private practice in Western Australia and neither the Greens nor the Aboriginal Legal Service had funds to fly a pathologist from interstate.
It seems that when an independent post mortem was conducted, only skin specimens supplied by Dr Hilton were used. The independent pathologist had no access to the body.
On April 5, 1986, at an inquest into Dixon Green's death, Derby Coroner, Paul Heaney ruled that there was no evidence of violence. He found that the death was by natural causes. putting an official end to the case.
At the inquest, Dr Coleman, of the North Australian Aboriginal Medical Service told how, when called to Broome Regional Prison on the night Dixon died, he found him still slumped on the toilet. No attempt had been made to resuscitate him.
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text marked up by Sarah Peckham, 30/7/96