• Patrick Cumaiyi was allegedly forcibly removed from a plane after being hit over the head by police with a metal flashlight. (The New York Times)Source: The New York Times
A Sydney Human Rights Lawyer files a class action suit on behalf of the remote Wadeye community against the Northern Territory Government alleging institutionalised racism and police brutality.
Naveen Razik

1 Nov 2019 - 3:40 PM  UPDATED 1 Nov 2019 - 3:45 PM

Eight residents from the remote town of Wadeye have launched a class action against the Northern Territory Government, alleging they've been victims of institutionalised racism for years.

The affidavit, filed on Monday, claims residents of the town have been denied adequate healthcare, education and legal services.

The case centres on an incident involving Wadeye resident Patrick Cumaiyi, the lead complainant, who suffered a fractured skull while in police custody.

Mr Cumaiyi was being flown by police to Darwin to face a domestic violence complaint when an argument broke out shortly before takeoff.

He alleged police assaulted him while he was on the plane, fracturing his skull with a metal flashlight and then dragging him headfirst onto the airport tarmac.

Instead of being referred to a doctor, Mr Cumaiyi said he spent the night in a cell without being given adequate medical care.

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Medical records suggest Patrick Cumaiyi was a victim of police brutality that fits a pattern in Australia — including a cover-up.

Police have denied Mr Cumaiyi’s claims, asserting in court he was injured after his arrest, jumping from a police van travelling at approximately eighty kilometres an hour in an attempt to escape.

Mr Cumaiyi later pled guilty to assaulting police and “endangering the safety of an aircraft” and is currently serving a three-year prison sentence.

High-Profile Human Rights Lawyer Stewart Levitt is representing Mr Cumaiyi and seven other residents from Wadeye, and believes Mr Cumaiyi's ordeal could have happened to any of the town's mostly Indigenous residents.  

He told NITV News he became involved in the case after being approached by medical practitioners from Wadeye who thought a “miscarriage of justice” took place during Mr Cumaiyi‘s trial.

After visiting Wadeye and consulting with Mr Cumaiyi’s family and senior elders, Mr Levitt lodged a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission.

But the complaint was not heard after the NT Government failed to engage in conciliation talks.

“What happened to Patrick Cumaiyi struck a chord in me of outrage and indignation,” Mr Levitt told NITV News.

“The inadequate treatment he received at the hospital for a fractured skull and the way in which the evidence was presented to the court was a great injustice.”

“It seems to me that what happened to him could have happened to any Indigenous person in Wadeye because of systematic institutional disadvantage.”

Mr Levitt previously represented residents of Palm Island in a successful class action against the Queensland Government.

He said his current clients were seeking an apology and damages from the Territory Government but noted "everything was negotiable."

"What we want is what's good for the people of Wadeye."

Wadeye is located approximately 220 kilometres south-west of Darwin and was a focal point of the Federal Government’s Northern Territory Intervention.

The Labor Territory Government has not responded to the case directly, but Chief Minister Michael Gunner moved to allay concerns his administration was ignoring Indigenous Australians in remote communities.

“[In] All my conversations with the people in Wadeye, [there] is a genuine reflection we are going in a better direction,” Mr Gunner said on Thursday.

“I accept as a government, there has been shortcomings.

"But in this term of government, I don’t think any government has done more to better listen and act on the interests of remote Territorians.”

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