A Coroner has ruled that Ms Dhu‘s death in custody could have been prevented, and that the Indigenous woman was subjected to “unprofessional and inhumane” treatment by Western Australian police.
Ms Dhu, a 22-year-old Yamatji woman, died in police custody on 4 August 2014, after being taking in to Port Hedland police station (about 1,500km north of Perth) for unpaid fines totalling $3622.
She was taken to hospital three times within 48 hours after complaining of being in pain, with officers believing she was faking or exaggerating her symptoms and many believing them to be the result of drug withdrawals.
She died on her third hospital visit of septicaemia and pneumonia, caused by an infection from a broken rib.
Coroner Ros Foglianai today handed down her findings from the inquest, telling a packed courtroom in Perth that Ms Dhu’s death could have been prevented if someone took her temperature and her infection had been treated with antibiotics.
“I have concluded that Ms Dhu’s supervision, treatment and care at the lock-up, particularly on 4 August 2014, fell well below the standards that should ordinarily be expected of the Western Australia Police Service,” she said.
“Further, the behaviour of a number of the police officers towards Ms Dhu was unprofessional and inhumane.”
She chose to release CCTV footage of Dhu’s time in custody, but not of her final moments in hospital.
She also made a series of recommendations, including a changing of the law so that people can no longer be imprisoned for the non-payment of fines.
Outside the courthouse, Ms Dhu’s family said they were unhappy with the findings, because nobody was being held accountable.
Ms Dhu’s grandmother Carol Roe said it felt like she’d lost her granddaughter all over again.
“Her birthday is in 10 days’ time,” she said. “We are supposed to celebrate Christmas but we can’t because there’s one missing in my family. I have to go to the cemetery, that’s my Christmas.”