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Indigenous Woman Died "Like A Dog" After Being Jailed For Unpaid Fines

Coronial inquest told that police thought she was "faking it".

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are warned that this post contains images of deceased people.

Ms Dhu (whose first name can't be used for cultural reasons) was locked up in August 2014 for $3,622 in unpaid fines. Forty-eight hours later, the Yamataji woman was dead.

Ms Dhu's grandmother Carol Roe and mother, DellaMiss Dhu. (AAPIMAGE)

The start of a two-week coronial inquest into Dhu's death began yesterday in Perth and day one of the inquest revealed the timeline of harrowing events leading up to Dhu's death.

Dhu was arrested and held in the South Hedland police station in WA's Pilbara region; during her time in custody she complained of feeling unwell constantly to police.

Three times Dhu was taken to the Hedland Health Campus – the first two times she was sent back to the police station, and on the third visit she arrived and died shortly after.

The inquest heard that the doctors who assessed Dhu on the first two visits had told police Dhu had "behavioural issues" when she was actually dying of septicaemia and pneumonia.

"By the morning of 4 August, 2014, Ms Dhu's clinical state rapidly worsened, and although it was not appreciated by the police officers involved, some of whom believed that Ms Dhu was feigning her illness, she was in an advanced state of septic shock and only hours from death," Ilona O'Brien, the counsel assisting coroner Ros Fogliani, told the inquest.

CCTV footage played to the court shows Dhu speaking with police at the station and at times crying and moaning in agony. At one point a female police officer talks to Dhu and tells her to try slowing down her breathing.

On the morning of her death CCTV shows Dhu vomiting and hitting her head on the concrete floor after falling backwards, police say they did not see this happen.

Dhu complained that her body was going numb and her lips were numb. A decision was made by police to take her to the health service a third time but marked it as non-urgent.

Shift supervisor Sergeant Rick Bond, writing in the custody system at the time, ​said, “[Ms Dhu] appears to be suffering withdrawals from drug use and is not coping well with being in custody.”

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.

A handcuffed Dhu can be heard moaning in pain as she is placed in the car and a male police officer can be heard saying, "Oh, shut up."

Speaking at the inquest on Monday Dhu's distraught father, Robert Dhu, said, “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.”

The court heard that upon arriving at the health campus the handcuffed Dhu "immediately went limp, slumped into the chair, and her head and eyes rolled back".

Miss Dhu (Supplied).

Dhu was identified ​as​ having a heart attack but police officers told the nurse on duty that she was most likely pretending.

“The triage nurse, Caroline Jones, approached Ms Dhu and, noting the seriousness of the situation, told police officers to take Ms Dhu straight through to the triage office,” O'Brien said at the inquest.

“Nurse Jones recalled that the police officers reported to her that Ms Dhu was ‘faking it’. However on assessing Ms Dhu, nurse Jones realised that Ms Dhu was in cardio-pulmonary arrest.”

An autopsy found the Dhu died of staphylococcal septicaemia and pneumonia, partially due to a broken rib caused by her boyfriend.

The inquest will focus on whether Dhu received adequate care and treatment while in police custody and by staff at the South Hedland health campus.

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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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