Impartial inquiry needed over death in custody: Family

BY AMY MCQUIREJANUARY 11, 2012

 Originally published in Tracker Magazine.

An Aboriginal health service have backed calls from an independent inquiry into the death in custody of an Aboriginal man in Alice Springs.

NORTHERN TERRITORY: An Aboriginal health service and international advocacy group have backed calls for an impartial investigation into the death in custody of an Aboriginal man in Alice Springs.

Anmatyerre man Terrance Daniel Briscoe, 28, died in an Alice Springs police cell last Thursday. Police claim they found him unconscious at 2am (local time) after he was taken into protective custody around 9:30pm the previous night.

But Mr Briscoe’s family alleges he was beaten by police officers before he died, the ABC reports.

His aunt, Patricia Morton-Thomas, told media earlier this week that two Aboriginal men in the station claim they saw Mr Briscoe being bashed by four policemen and a female officer.

“We are not pointing the finger at the police saying they have murdered our child. We just want to know the truth, and there are inconsistencies between what the police told us and what these two young men told us,” Ms Morton-Thomas said on Friday.

“They claim that they witnessed the five police officers beating him that night.

“I don’t know if it was in the lock-up, or where it was, but it was definitely in police care,” she added.

NT Chief Minister Paul Henderson has promised a full police investigation into the death, and it has been reported it’s currently being investigated by the Darwin Major Crimes Unit.

But the family have called for an independent, impartial investigation, a request backed by the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress.

Congress chief executive Stephanie Bell told The Australian newspaper today that the investigation should include police from outside the Northern Territory.

“There is a history of experience that Aboriginal people have with police,” Ms Bell told the Australian.

“It should be a necessary step that someone comes in from outside of the Territory.

“Getting the confidence of the Aboriginal community is an important step. . . towards building better relationships with the authorities.”

The NT Police Association has told media that it is not appropriate to hold a separate investigation.

“There’s clear legislation around deaths in custody,” Association President Vince Kelly told media.

“All investigations are over-sighted by the coroner.

“I think there’s also a leap or an assumption made here that police have acted in some way inappropriately.

“My understanding at this point in the investigation is there is no evidence tosupport that claim.

“I am confident the commissioner of police and the coroner, and our professional police, are more than capable of conducting an independent impartial investigation.”

But Mr Kelly’s comments were savaged by international advocacy group Amnesty International, who also backed a separate probe.

“The tragic death of Terrence Briscoe last week highlights government inaction in implementing the recommendations made more than 20 years ago in Australia’s most significant inquiry into Aboriginal deaths in custody,” National Director Claire Mallinson said.

“Mr Kelly’s comments simply ignore the underlying social, cultural and legal issues concerning Aboriginal deaths in custody that remain unaddressed in this county.

“What we saw in the flawed police investigations into the deaths of Palm Islander Mulrunji Doomadgee and West Australian Aboriginal leader Mr Ward were systemic failures of authorities to deliver justice for these deaths and must not be repeated.”

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