Coroner investigates detention centre death

BY JODY BETZIEN

MELBOURNE — A coroner's inquiry into the death of a 52-year-old Tongan man at Maribyrnong detention centre, has been told by one witness that the man jumped from a basketball hoop after he had been sitting on it for eight hours.

Coroner Phil Byrne is investigating whether Viliami Tanginoa fell or jumped from the basketball hoop on December 22, 2000. Tanginoa had been informed of his imminent deportation days before his death. He had been living and working in Australia for 17 years without documentation when he was taken into custody. He was detained for four months.

The inquest was shown footage filmed by detention centre officer, Carol Rossi. It shows Tanginoa sitting, and sometimes standing, on the backboard of the hoop. Filming had not taken place when Tanginoa came off the pole, the inquest was told. During the eight-hour ordeal, Tanginoa received no food or water.

One detainee who witnessed the incident was held for six weeks in Port Philip prison and the Melbourne remand centre without charge, after he spoke to the media. At the time of the incident, a number of detainees claimed detention centre staff taunted Tanginoa while he sat on the basketball hoop. Detention centre staff have denied these allegations.

A key witness in the inquiry, immigration department official Peter Smit, has not been able to be located to give evidence. The inquiry will resume in March.

From Green Left Weekly, February 12, 2003.

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