Coroner can't rule out foul play in drowned refugee's death

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An Ethiopian refugee family has been left with unanswered questions over the death of their son, three years after his body was found in a river.

The body of 22-year-old Michael Atakelt was pulled from the Maribyrnong River in July, 2011, 11 days after he disappeared.

The man's immediate family and other members of Melbourne's Ethiopian community feared he'd been murdered and accused police of mishandling the investigation.

The community was concerned about possible police involvement because the man had been in custody in the days prior.

Coroner Ian Gray delivered an open finding saying Mr Atakelt drowned but he was unable to make any findings as to how or why he had ended up in the river.

"It is not possible to make conclusive findings as to exactly when, exactly where, or why Michael entered the Maribyrnong River."

Outside the court, Mr Atakelt's father had mixed feelings.

"I can't be happy with the decision and I can't be unhappy with the decision actually because it's been left open," said Getachew Seyoum.

The coroner said foul play was possible but unlikely and he ruled the police had no involvement in the man's disappearance or death.

The family's lawyer, Tamar Hopkins told SBS the case highlights some serious flaws in the way police handled the investigation.

The finding comes after years of strained relations between Victoria Police and some members of Melbourne's African community.

In February 2013, the police settled litigation in the Federal Court after 19 African Australian men took action alleging so-called racial profiling.

Victoria Police's Chief Commissioner Ken Lay admitted some police members had engaged in discriminatory policing when he outlined the key findings of an internal police review.

"Some of the stories that we heard would suggest that some of our members did racially profile. Now I'm not proud of that, I'm not happy about it, but this process has actually given me an insight into some of our practices that I hadn't seen before. So whilst I'm confident that Victorian Police as an organisation doesn't racially profile, I'm equally confident that some of our members have actually engaged in that process."

Tamar Hopkins from the Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre said race had played a part in what happened.

"What we're seeing is police that all too often view African youth as being potential criminals, rather than being victims or vulnerable and needing care and respect and I guess what we're seeing here is that Michael Atakelt was one of these criminalised young men, was viewed through that lens rather than as someone who deserved the kind of respect and thoroughness of investigating that any other person might be investigated so look I do think that race has played a part in what we have seen occurring in the investigation of Michael Atakelt's death."

Source World News Australia

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