The National Congress of Australia's First Peoples has called for prosecution of the people involved in the preventable death in custody of Yamatji woman, Ms Dhu.
Last week, the Western Australian Coroner released CCTV footage that showed Ms Dhu’s lifeless body being dragged through South Hedland Police Station, two days after she was locked up for the non-payment of fines.
Ms Dhu’s screams for help were ignored by police officers, who said they thought she was ‘faking’ it, while complications from a previous rib fracture became infectious and spread to her lungs.
The WA Coroner, Ros Fogliani, found police acted unprofessionally and inhumanely and her death could have been prevented if she had been given treatment.
But the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples is concerned the coroner’s findings fall short after there were no recommendations for prosecution.
“We call that there’s prosecution of these people, they have a duty of care and we felt that treatment was terrible,” Congress co-chair Rod Little said.
“The footage actually showed how inhumane the treatment was of Ms Dhu, and those who we could see in the footage, these were people who were authorities that acted inappropriately and they should be held to account.”
Mr Little said it’s alarming that the officers involved are still employed.
“I find it extremely unacceptable that that kind of behaviour is allowed to continue, they are employed as authorised officers to protect and serve the community… I think they should be suspended until they are held to account and a proper inquiry is undertaken,” he said.
He noted any investigation should be independent, and said he didn’t have confidence in authorities investigating themselves.
This year is the 25th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which made 339 recommendations.
Congress urged the judiciary and governments to remember those recommendations while implementing Coroner Fogliani’s recommendations.
“These kinds of recommendations come up time and time again but there’s a lack of action by those who have the authority and the capacity to act and save lives, and that is the most critical thing,” Mr Little said.
“The authorities and governments should be serious about acting on these recommendations, we don’t want to see the usual resistance in the form of the financial support to implement these things,” he said.
“We know that our incarceration rates in this country are at a record high so there needs to be some serious reaction to this so that we don’t see this kind of result for these families and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the nations anymore.”
Ms Dhu's lawyer and family also weren’t satisfied by the report, despite the coroner recommending no one should be jailed for the non-payment of fines in the future.
Western Australia continues to have the highest Aboriginal imprisonment rate in Australia.