The peak legal body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has said revelations that officers at the Brisbane watch house where Sherry Fisher-Tilberoo died were doing the laundry instead of regular cell checks are extremely concerning.
Birri Gubba woman Sherry Fisher-Tilberoo died in a holding cell at the Brisbane Watch House on 10 September.
The Ethical Standards Command has launched an investigation into her death, but already an officer has been suspended in relation to allegations they failed to conduct regular physical checks at the Watch House over a five to six hour period.
In a statement to NITV News, a Queensland Police Service spokesman confirmed the QPS laundry contract had been suspended because of the COVID pandemic.
“To reduce the number of people entering the Brisbane Watch House during the pandemic the laundry contract was suspended. The Watch House has been able to continue laundering sheets, bedding and clothing using existing resources,” the spokesperson said.
When asked whether the staff who were on duty when Ms Fisher-Tilberoo died were doing the laundry, the spokesperson declined to comment.
“As the matter into the recent death of a 49-year-old woman at the Brisbane City Watch House is currently being investigated on behalf of the State Coroner the Queensland Police Service is not in a position to make any further comment at this time,” the spokesperson said.
Cheryl Axleby, co-chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services told NITV News the revelations are worrying.
“These reports are extremely concerning. Any changes to police practice during the pandemic must be balanced against the risk to the lives of people in their custody and the need for regular monitoring," said Ms Axleby.
"We urge police to review these practices to prevent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody. We are deeply saddened by Aunty Sherry’s death, currently under investigation”.
NATSILS said it stands in solidarity with the Fisher and Tilberoo families and all families who have lost loves ones in custody, in their fight for justice.