Waka Waka man Patrick Fisher fell to his death while fleeing police trying to gain entry to his girlfriend’s apartment on February 7 last year. A father of three, Fisher fell from the 13th floor balcony of a housing block in Waterloo, Sydney.
Redfern police had been trying to track Fisher down over two outstanding warrants.
Almost two years later, a coronial inquest in Fisher’s death finally began on August 19. Though initially scheduled to last a week, it was halted after two days.
The findings of the inquest, which were released on August 23, revealed that the day of Fisher’s death, police had visited his mother’s home in Redfern.
Police also attended the security office of the Sir Joesph Banks Building housing commission block to show security a photograph of Fisher. Security identified Fisher as a person who had been to the block on several occasions to visit his partner and alerted police to Fisher’s presence.
The report said four police officers then demanded to be let into his partner’s flat, with one officer kicking the door.
Fisher died as a result of multiple injuries sustained from the fall. The report found methamphetamine in his system but said that although this may have contributed to his death, it was not the cause.
The report said: “Fisher slipped while he was trying to climb to the balcony below to avoid police.”
Police were aware of the possibility that Fisher might attempt to climb over the balcony, as records showed he avoided or attempted to avoid police on 44 other occasions.
Police were either still knocking on the unit door or had just entered the apartment when Fisher fell, the report said.
The inquest found that no blame for Fisher’s death could be attributed to the fact police demanded entry to the apartment, even though Magistrate Carmel Forbes said “it is not in dispute that there was, however, an onus on the police to properly assess the risk of the situation before they embarked upon the arrest”.
Patrick’s death resulted from an operational procedure that took place while he was evading arrest, raising the question as to why police did not avoid taking actions that ultimately contributed to this outcome.
The inquest offered no criticism of the racism endemic within the police and justice system, which has contributed to a rise in the number of deaths in custody during the 12 months leading to August.
Police, prisons and courts have proven themselves capable of only delivering murder, cover-ups, obfuscation and suffering to First Nations people.
Coronial inquests are not independent investigations into the actions of police officers or prison guards. Only independent inquiries can deliver the kind of information and justice required when dealing with deaths in custody.
Importantly, momentum to stop Black deaths in custody is growing, particularly following the killing of a young man Warlpiri man Kumanjayi Walker in the Northern Territory, and the subsequent murder charge laid against a constable, together with the victory for Palm Island residents, who won $30 million in compensation and an apology for the murder of Mulrundji Doomadgee.
But pressure needs to be maintained, as the movement has not yet won the battle to prosecute and successfully sentence a police or corrections officer for their involvement in an Aboriginal death in custody.
Campaigns to win justice for the families and friends of those who died in custody, also continue.