Aboriginal death in Katherine after release from custody sparks calls for inquiry, justice

October 24, 2012

Rollback the Intervention released the statement below on October 24.

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Another death of an Aboriginal man potentially involving police in the Northern Territory has sparked calls for an inquiry and urgent action to stop police harassment and brutality.

Mr E Lewis, a Warlpiri man living in Katherine, passed away shortly after being released from police custody on September 23.

Mr Lewis was a diabetic amputee, who was held in custody for more than 24 hours. He died in his sleep shortly after being released.

Family of Mr Lewis say there are many witnesses alleging he was treated roughly during his arrest, which occurred during a large card game in Katherine.

They also say that before his death, Mr Lewis had complained about being dragged and kicked in custody, along with being denied food, water and medication.

Mr Lewis’ sister Dorris is demanding a coronial inquiry to examine the circumstances of the death. She has been unable to find out the cause of death. “We need for there to be a full inquiry into this death,” she said. “It’s not enough for the police to be in charge of the investigation. We feel only with an inquiry will we see the truth. And we need to see the CCTV footage from the cell right now.

“Many witnesses, non-Indigenous people too, have told our family that he was treated very roughly when he was taken into custody. He was dragged and thrown. They didn’t care that he only had one leg.

“Before he passed away, my brother was telling his family that he had also been treated very roughly in the watch house. He also said that he had not been fed or given drink or any medication. He could hardly sit up when he got home.

“After he had struggled to eat some food he went to sleep and passed away.

“We can’t just let this go. We believe that the police must be held responsible. Unless there is some justice, they will just keep treating our people like this. The responsible officers need to be sacked for how they treated my brother.

“In 2004, we lost another family member from the police. They ran him over like a dog. All they did was pay some money and that was forgotten, no police got charged. This wouldn’t happen to a non-Indigenous person. We need justice to be done for these deaths or it will keep happening.

“We don’t see that the police are here to keep Australia in peace, or keep our town safe. Some police are nice and doing a good, real job. But others are going around dragging and bashing Aboriginal people and mistreating whether they are drunk or sober. We feel that they are doing criminal things themselves but always get away with it. Why can’t we all treat each other with respect in this country and live as one?”

Patricia Morton-Thomas, spokesperson for the family of Kwementyaye Briscoe, who died in police custody in January, visited the family of Mr Lewis in Katherine. Ms Morton-Thomas has pledged to fight to uncover the truth about his death and see that justice is done.

“This is now the fifth death in suspicious circumstances involving police or corrections staff since 2009 and the body count is unacceptable,” Morton-Thomas said. “The Northern Territory government must do something urgently about the brutality and harassment that our people are experiencing at the hands of the police.

“Despite what happened to my nephew, my family's consistent calls for justice and for the police department to change their ways, they are ignoring us and continuing with their inhumane treatment of Aboriginal people.

“We encourage all families who are victims of police brutality to join with us in the call for justice.”

[For more information phone Dorris Lewis 0467 044 795, Patricia Morton-Thomas 0432 612 105.]

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