The family of Aboriginal woman Ms Dhu, who died in police custody in August 2014, has called on the coroner investigating her death to release CCTV footage of the Yamtaji woman's last two days alive.
Ms Dhu, whose first name can’t be used for cultural reasons, was locked up for $3,622 in unpaid fines. Within 48 hours of being taken into custody in South Hedland, Western Australia, she was dead.
"That CCTV pretty directly shows the mistreatment that was inflicted on my niece. Not just from one person, but many parties that were meant to have a duty of care for her," Shaun Harris, Dhu's uncle and the family spokesperson, told BuzzFeed News.
Dhu died an agonising death from septicaemia and pneumonia stemming from an infection from a broken rib that was a result of domestic violence. She was taken to the South Hedland Health Campus three times while in custody. The first two times medical staff thought she was pretending to be in pain. On the third visit, she was pronounced dead.
“What I have seen on the CCTV, it is very cruel what they have done to her. They left her there like a dog just to lay down and die," Robert Dhu, Dhu's father, told the inquest.
Dhu's parents had initially informed coroner Ros Fogliani at the start of the inquest last November that they did not want the footage released.
They've since changed their minds, arguing that the shocking nature of the footage would ensure more scrutiny on police and health workers in their duty of care toward Aboriginal people.
"On day one of the inquest, we all saw the CCTV footage in full and even though we knew about what happened to her it was so shocking to see it, it was haunting. To see her in pain begging for help and being dragged like an animal carcass from her cell was chilling," Harris says.
"This footage shows the reality of a black death in custody. It is ugly and disturbing and needs to be seen by all Australians so they can stand up and say enough is enough, no more black deaths in custody."
Despite the family's plea in March, Fogliani declined their request saying that, "once images are released and provided to the media, I cannot control their future dissemination”.
“It may take family members by surprise and it may shock them in years to come," Fogliani said.
Harris says it should be at the family's discretion whether they choose to release the footage and that Fogliani's reasoning is a slap in the face.
"We're having to mount a whole separate campaign just to get footage of the CCTV released, which is exhausting. This is vital evidence in the public interest the decision by the coroner is disgraceful. How much heartbreak do we have to have," Harris said.
The footage of Dhu includes vision of her complaining of being unwell several times while incarcerated.
The police sergeant responsible for looking after Dhu admitted at the inquest that he called her "fucking junkie" and that he thought Dhu was faking it.
On the morning of Dhu's death, the vision shows her alone vomiting and hitting her head on the concrete floor after falling backwards. CCTV footage reveals that when she was finally taken to the health service, Dhu had to be dragged from the cell because she could not walk.
Once in the corridor, another officer lifted up Dhu’s feet before she was carried to a police 4WD and placed in the back. She was pronounced dead a short time later.
The coroner is expected to hand down the inquest findings within the month.
Formerly with BuzzFeed News, Allan Clarke is a NITV reporter based in Sydney.
Contact Allan Clarke at arielle.benedek+AC@buzzfeed.com.
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