Article from the Human Rights Law Centre (26 August 2020) gives an insight into the circumstances of Tanya’s death in detention and the response of her family to what they see as the injustice committed against Tanya, her family, and their people.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) will not prosecute two police officers involved in the death of proud Yorta Yorta woman, Tanya Day, despite the Coroner referring the police officers involved in her death for criminal investigation, saying she believed “an indictable offence may have been committed”.
In making a decision to prosecute, the DPP are required to consider whether there is reasonable prospects of a conviction; and whether the prosecution is in the public interest. The DPP and Victoria Police did not consult with the Day family or provide any reasons.
The Day Family said:
“We are devastated and we are angry. The two police officers who failed to properly check on our mum, and instead left her to die on the floor of a police cell, have been let off. The DPP seem to have based their conclusion on a police investigation that we have said all along was flawed and lacked independence. It is not good enough that such an important decision was made behind closed doors without any input from our family or the broader Aboriginal community. It is in the public interest – and the interests of Aboriginal people across Australia – that the police be held accountable for their actions”.
“In the last 30 years, hundreds of Aboriginal people like our mum have died at the hands of the police, yet no police officer has ever been held criminally responsible. We had hoped that in this global ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement that there might be some care and accountability for our mum’s needless death, but instead the DPP are choosing not to prosecute this injustice.
“This is wrong and speaks volumes about systemic racism and police impunity in this country. Aboriginal people will keep dying in custody until the legal system changes and police are held accountable.”
The Day family are now demanding the Andrews Government put an end to police brutality and commit to independent investigations of deaths in custody:
“Our mum’s case shows why it’s wrong for police to be investigating the actions of their own colleagues. From the outset, we asked for an independent investigation – instead, we got police discarding important evidence that made it look like they were covering up.
“When someone dies at the hands of the police, the law should require a transparent investigation, so that there can be truth and accountability.”
Circumstances of Tanya Day’s death:
In 2017, Tanya fell asleep on a V/Line train on her way to Melbourne. Despite causing no disturbance, she was targeted for being Aboriginal and then arrested and detained for being drunk in a public place in circumstances, where the Coroner found police should have taken her to hospital or sought urgent medical advice.
At the time Tanya was arrested, Aboriginal women were over 10 times more likely to be targeted by Victoria Police for being drunk in public than non-Aboriginal women.
When locked up in a concrete police cell in the Castlemaine station, Tanya fell and hit her head on the wall, and she was left lying on the cell floor for over three hours. Police checked on her through the cell door twice for a matter of seconds.
The Coroner found that the checks the police officers conducted on Tanya while she was in the cell were inadequate and that the police officers had failed to take proper care for Tanya’s safety, security, health and welfare as required by the Victoria Police guidelines.
The Coroner found that had the checks been conducted by the police in accordance with the relevant requirements, Tanya’s deterioration may well have been identified and treated appropriately earlier.
The Day Family said:
“While this is devastating news for our family, it’s also a difficult time for Aboriginal people across the nation. Today the findings of the coronial inquest into the death of Tane Chatfield were handed down, and there’s the upcoming committal hearing into the shooting of Kumanjayi Walker in the NT. Our family stands in solidarity with those currently fighting for justice for their loved ones that have died in custody.”
Monique Hurley, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre – who represented the Day family in the coronial inquest – said the Andrews Government should change the law and put an end to police investigating the actions of other police in death in custody matters.
“The status quo of police investigating themselves and dodging accountability for Aboriginal people dying in their care must end. For as long as Premier Andrews allows police to act with impunity, deaths in custody will continue.
It should not be left to Aboriginal families, like the Day family, to continue fighting for justice and accountability. The Andrews Government must step up to the plate and address the institutional racism and lack of police accountability that lead to abuse, mistreatment and Aboriginal people dying in custody.”