A coroner has recommended police lose the power to arrest and detain drunk people for drinking in the street after a 44-year-old Aboriginal woman of fragile health died in custody in WA's north.
Maureen Mandijarra was heavily intoxicated on the evening of November 29, 2012 when she was locked up at the Broome Police Station, where officers planned to let her "sleep it off" overnight.
But they didn't appreciate how bad her overall health was, including poorly controlled diabetes and recurrent infections exacerbated by alcoholism, and she died in the early hours of the morning.
No specific cause of death has been ascertained, but it was by way of natural causes, possibly a seizure due to underlying sepsis.
Coroner Ros Fogliani said in findings handed down on Wednesday that the police incident management system contained records of the risk of Ms Mandijarra suffering epileptic fits and of having a medical condition that required prescribed drugs.
The officers responsible for her welfare that night either did not see them or did not focus on them, Ms Fogliani said.
"Whilst it was reasonable at the time for police not to take every alcohol- affected person to hospital, given the extent of Ms Mandijarra's manifest intoxication and dysfunction, and her history ... police ought to have taken her
to hospital," she said.
Ms Fogliani said parliament should consider abolishing arrest and detention for street drinking, or alternatively, making it a last resort.
"The risk involved in detaining a heavily intoxicated person in a lock-up, particularly overnight, is not to be underestimated," she said.
"The assessment of the likely effects of intoxication on a person's general health ought not be left to police officers."
Ms Fogliani also recommended changing the WA Police manual to stipulate that an intoxicated person must have a welfare screening by a medical professional before being admitted to a lock up, especially overnight.
She noted Ms Mandijarra's death occurred just over 20 years after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which identified the arrest and detention of indigenous people for public drunkenness as a concern.
In December, Ms Fogliani found 22-year-old Aboriginal woman Ms Dhu, who died two days after being locked up at South Hedland Police Station for unpaid fines, had been treated inhumanely.
"Ms Mandijarra's death in the lock-up when she was in the control, care and custody of the police re-enlivens the trauma of Aboriginal deaths in custody, and calls into question the adequacy of the steps that have been taken to avoid such deaths," the coroner said.
"It is my hope that the recommendations I have made will assist in reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal persons in lock-ups, particularly in regional areas and certainly where the only reason is based upon the street drinking behaviour."