• Marlon Johns Jr with his father, Marlon Johns Sr. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Marlon Johns Jr died after being struck by a train. His family are demanding an investigation into an alleged incident of racism by transit authority guards.
Karen Michelmore, Lindy Kerin

The Point
20 Apr 2021 - 9:32 PM  UPDATED 7 Sep 2021 - 5:06 PM

As a professional tracker, Marlon Johns Sr’s work involves searching for answers.

But he’s been unable to get a read on his most gut-wrenching mission yet: finding out what happened to his 30-year-old son.

“I want answers and I want to know what happened because I can’t even sleep at night,” he told NITV’s The Point program.

It’s been seven weeks since Marlon Johns died. The Noongar man’s body was found on the railway track near Fremantle station in the early hours of Sunday, February 28.

Marlon and a friend had been on a Saturday night out in Fremantle and were planning on catching the last train home.

What happened next is the subject of conflicting accounts.

Marlon’s friend has told family that four security guards approached the pair as they were sitting on the platform waiting for the train. The friend says one guard recognised Marlon, calling him by name, and referring to Marlon's troubled past with the law. The guards demanded they leave the station.

Angry and upset, Marlon took off.

His friend never saw him again.

WA’s Public Transport Authority has issued a statement saying two men were asked to leave the station at 2.20am after two people complained about anti-social behaviour and threats of violence.

“The transit officers approached the men accused of the anti-social behaviour, who continued to behave in an agitated manner and repeated the violent threats,” the statement says.

“A key role of our transit officers is ensuring passenger safety and security by addressing abusive, threatening and anti-social behaviour.

“The men complied with the requests to leave and transit officers followed them to the station exit at a distance, at no stage physically engaging with the two men.”

“The death is being treated as non-suspicious"

The authority says the interaction was captured on CCTV.

Just 38 minutes later, at 2.58am, staff were made aware that a man had been hit on the tracks along the Fremantle Rail Bridge.

“This is a tragic event and it’s unclear why the man was on live train tracks,” the authority says.

Police attended the scene 30 minutes later.

“The death is being treated as non-suspicious and a report will be prepared for the coroner,” a police statement says.

Marlon’s mother Cheryl Butcher has asked the authority to view the CCTV footage of the interaction with transit guards.

“I will know Marlon’s behaviour. I will know whether Marlon was doing what they were saying he was doing,” she says.

Ms Butcher says Marlon may “have had some sort of outburst”, but this was after a negative interaction with the station guards.

“His friend said to me that… when they walked outside, Marlon was that broken that Marlon was actually crying,” she says.

“That’s how angry they had got him.

“Marlon’s very cultural and it’s bad enough that (the guard) has said something about his criminal past, (and) knew exactly who he was… his friend can’t remember exactly word for word, all he can remember is when he heard the word “black” he sort of looked up to see if anyone else was around that could help them.”

Marlon Johns Jr. had tried hard to turn his life around after a rocky start.

Exposed to drugs, alcohol and violence from a young age, Marlon Jr found himself “stuck” in the justice system from the age of 12.

In a remarkable transformation, reported on by the ABC in 2017, he gained a scholarship to a private school from Banksia Hill Detention Centre, and later went to university, with a live-in program run at the University of Western Australia’s St Catherine’s College.

He became a mentor and started helping other young kids.

“This environment has made me strive for a better life,” he told ABC at the time.

“Some people say once a crim, always a crim but I want to break them stereotypes against people because you can change your life.

“I believe people do deserve a second chance, even a third or fourth chance, so they get it right.”

Educator Lynn Webber says she first met Marlon Johns Jr in Banksia Hill when he was 15.

“He was passionate about helping others"

He was passionate about sharing his experience and helping other young people, and travelled to Fitzroy Crossing and Broome in WA, and Alice Springs in the Northern Territory to talk to students about the transformative value of education.

“He was absolutely committed to education, even when he was in prison – he knocked off more certificates and diplomas than any other person that I met,” Ms Webber says.

“He believed that you could break the cycle, and he was passionate about supporting other young people to stop the life that he had had.

“He was passionate about helping others.

“I think he was exceptional in that. He had a really good heart.”

The fact his past had caught up with him in the most final of ways has left his family devastated.

They want a formal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the tragedy.

Marlon Johns Sr has travelled from regional WA to Perth, where he has been receiving support from his sister Elizabeth and her husband Rex Bellotti, whose son was seriously injured after being run over by a police vehicle in another incident.

“Three things that need to take place that I can see – first and foremost is a coronial inquest, two, a transit authority investigation, and three we need answers from the WA police and the major crash unit. Those three reports need to come as soon as possible,” Mr Bellotti says.

Ngalla Maya Aboriginal Corporation CEO Mervyn Eades has called for the transit guard involved to be stood down. He also wants cultural awareness training, and greater numbers of First Nations transit guards employed, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights.

“The transit guards in WA have been like this for a very long time,” Mr Eades says.

“They have been brutal with our kids and our young people.

“How they treat our people isn’t right and they have never been held accountable.”

He says Marlon’s death was entirely preventable.

“All they had to do was let him on the train, let him go home and he would be here today,” Mr Eades says.

“These last trains are free and have been designed so people exactly like Marlon are able to get home after a night out on the town.

“It’s to get people home and there safely.

“Transit WA refusing him entry onto that train was a major contributing factor to his death.”

Cheryl Butcher says the death of her son has left a painful, gaping hole.

“I just want answers. One minute he’s with us, the next minute he’s not."

“The anguish of it, it’s just overbearing,” she says.

“What makes me the most angry is, I can’t see why it’s taking them so long.

“If they just show me that footage of him on the train station, it will give me peace of mind of where Marlon was at, and just settle some of those questions.”

Marlon Sr says he won’t be able to rest until he knows the truth of that night.

“I just want answers. One minute he’s with us, the next minute he’s not. There’s got to be an explanation.”

In a statement, the WA public transport authority said they had not received reports on inappropriate behaviour by the officer in question.

"Transit Officers are extensively trained in de-escalation strategies, safe arrest techniques and customer service. We have reviewed the footage and the incident reports, and believe our staff acted appropriately and in line with their training.

"We will cooperate fully with any investigation."

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