• Aunty Tanya Day with her dog Rumbalara. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Tanya Day was a Yorta Yorta woman, grandmother and activist who tragically died in police custody in December 2017.
Madeline Hayman-Reber

8 Apr 2020 - 5:07 PM  UPDATED 8 Apr 2020 - 5:07 PM

On Thursday, after six months of deliberation, Victorian Coroner Caitlin English will hand down her findings of the three-week-long inquest into the death in custody of Tanya Day via a live stream, due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Ms Day was a 55-year-old Yorta Yorta grandmother. She was on her way to visit her youngest daughter in December 2017, when she was arrested at Castlemaine Train Station for public drunkenness after falling asleep on the train.

Once in police custody, CCTV footage shows Ms Day staggering around the cell and hitting her head several times.

She was later found to have suffered from a bleed in her left temporal and frontal lobes of her brain and died in hospital from her injuries.

“There will only be justice for our mum if the police involved in her death are criminally investigated and held accountable. We know that police targeted our mum for being an Aboriginal woman,” the Day family said in a statement.

“We know that police ignored her in the police cell and left her to die on the floor. We know that the police officers’ decisions were infected with racism. We hope that the findings in our mum’s inquest will give us the truth and justice we need to move on.”

The family is asking for the Coroner to refer the police officers involved to the Department of Public Prosecutions for criminal investigation, to find that systemic racism was a cause of her death, and also recommend that police stop investigating other police officers, particularly deaths in police custody.

Since Ms Day's death, her family has been relentlessly campaigning to have the state's public drunkenness laws quashed as per the recommendations handed down following the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. 

Prior to the inquest in September 2019, Coroner English said she would be making the recommendation to abolish Victoria's public drunkenness laws.

The Andrews Labor government and previous Aboriginal Affairs Minister Gavin Jennings met with the family in August 2019, committing to the abolition, however more than six months on, the changes are yet to be implemented.

“This case is a painful reminder that racism and detention are lethal. Tanya Day was locked up under discriminatory laws that should have been abolished decades ago," Senior Lawyer with the Human Rights Law Centre, Monique Hurley said.

"At every opportunity, police used their discretion against her. In this COVID-19 context where the Andrews’ Government is giving Victoria Police more and more powers, we must make sure there are safeguards in place so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are not over policed and that increased police powers do not lead to any more deaths in custody.”

Following in their mum's footsteps of deaths in custody activism, the family hope that the outcome of their mum's inquest leads to more change, so that this does not happen to another family.

“Hundreds of Aboriginal people have died in police custody, including our great uncle and our mum, but no police officer has ever been held criminally accountable," the Day family said.

"This is because a system that lets police investigate other police officers, essentially lets police off the hook. Unless the system changes, unless institutions are forced to deal with systemic racism, then more Aboriginal people will die in custody."

Members of the public are invited to watch the live stream of the verdict on Thursday, April 9 at 11.15am, by clicking here.