• Carol Roe, grandmother of Ms Dhu outside the coroner's court in Perth last year. (AAP)Source: AAP
The family of Indigenous woman, Ms Dhu, who died in police custody in 2014 are demanding legal action against three police officers involved in her death, and against her partner at the time of her death.
Amanda Copp

8 Jun 2017 - 11:37 AM  UPDATED 8 Jun 2017 - 11:41 AM

The family of Ms Dhu have written to the West Australian director of public prosecutions requesting charges be laid against three officers charged with her care, and against her partner at the time of her death.

Earlier this week, West Australian police announced they would take “no further action” against officers involved in the case, sparking community anger.

There have been a number of investigations into the death of Ms Dhu, who died in police custody in 2014 after being jailed for unpaid fines, and the actions of police and hospital staff.

Despite an internal police investigation, a coronial inquest and national protests, Ms Dhu’s family is still not convinced justice has been served and are taking further action.

The events that lead to her death began when the Yamaji woman was arrested and taken to South Hedland Police Station on Saturday, 2 August 2014 because of her outstanding fines totaling $3622.

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The principle of ‘open justice’ must override concerns about privacy and dignity. Should the coroner refuse to grant the family’s application to release the footage of Ms Dhu's final hours, this refusal would be an extension of the wall of silence and invisibility around Ms Dhu's death in custody.

While in police custody the 22-year-old told officers she was feeling unwell and was taken to hospital on Saturday and again on Sunday.

Hospital staff on both occasions issued reports saying she was fit to return into police custody.

For a third time Ms Dhu complained of feeling unwell, but police concluded she was a “junkie” and coming down from drugs.

The third time she requested medical attention, officers ignored her until she could no longer stand and had to be dragged from her cell and taken to hospital where she died of septicaemia and pneumonia.

An autopsy found her death was partly caused by complications from a previous rib fracture caused by a domestic violence incident with her ex-partner, Dion Ruffin, which became infected and spread to her lungs.

Internal investigations into police operations were launched after Ms Dhu’s family demanded answers about the circumstances that lead to her death.

In November 2014, hundreds of people stood with Mr Dhu’s family and staged a protest against deaths in custody ahead of the G20 Leader’s Summit in Brisbane.

The internal police investigation did not result in any charges and in February 2015, Ms Dhu's grandmother, Carol Roe, called for the coronial inquest into the death.

Her request was granted and in April when WA Premier Colin Barnett announced an inquest would begin in November the same year.

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Coroner: Ms Dhu's death preventable, police 'unprofessional and inhumane'
The West Australian coroner has handed down her findings into the causes of Ms Dhu's death.

Prompted by Ms Dhu’s death, WA announced changes in June to make lock-ups safer, reduce the number of low-level offenders sent to jail and to divert youth away from custody.

On the anniversary of her death, people around the nation hold protests and Ms Dhu’s family say they are still waiting on answers.

More than two years year after her death, the inquest begins and the court hears police thought Ms Dhu was “faking it” when she complained of feeling unwell and laughed at her in the hours before she died.

Footage from the South Hedland Police Station was played at the inquest and showed Ms Dhu unable to stand and being dragged unconscious to a police van to be transported to hospital on the day of her death.

CCTV footage shows Ms Dhu’s treatment by police

Police sergeant, Rick Bond tells the inquest he and the officers thought Ms Dhu was a “junkie” who was coming down off drugs.

The doctor who saw her at the Hedland Health Campus admitted medical staff should have taken her temperature when she was admitted to hospital.

At the time of the inquiry, coroner Ross Figliani refuses to publicly release the security footage, but after footage from Don Dale prison in the Northern Territory is revealed in July 2016, Ms Dhu’s family calls for it to be released.

The coroner refuses which provokes more anger in the community.

More than two years after her death, the inquest releases its findings and concludes police acted unprofessionally and inhumanely, and Ms Dhu’s death could have been prevented with the correct medical attention. However no charges are recommended.

Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre Ruth Barson said at the time, "Ms Dhu should have never been taken into custody and she certainly should not have died such a cruel death.”

“Western Australia desperately needs to fix its over-imprisonment crisis, and to change its fines laws to be fair and flexible," said Ms Barson.

Police officers involved in Ms Dhu’s death underwent disciplinary measures but no one has been dismissed or charged in relation to the incident - a move which the WA government supported.

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West Australian police will take no further action against officers, who had adverse findings against them, after an Aboriginal woman died in custody, saying they have already been dealt with.
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The Cat Empire’s Felix Riebl has just released a song about Ms Dhu's death to create awareness, expose racism and demand for justice.
Coroner: Ms Dhu's death preventable, police 'unprofessional and inhumane'
The West Australian coroner has handed down her findings into the causes of Ms Dhu's death.