Victoria Police will not face criminal charges over the 2017 death in custody of Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day.
This is despite the Coroner referring the police officers involved in Day’s death for criminal investigation, saying she believed “an indictable offence may have been committed”.
In a statement, Victoria Police said they received advice from the Office of Public Prosecutions not to proceed with charges.
“Victoria Police takes any death in police care or custody very seriously and will continue reviewing the coroner’s findings and recommendations,” the statement said.
Day’s family – who said they were not informed by either the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) or Victoria Police that charges would not be laid – are devastated. They are calling on the Daniel Andrews government to commit to an independent investigation of deaths in custody.
“We are devastated and we are angry,” they said in a statement via the Human Rights Law Centre.
“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 late 2017, Day fell asleep on a train to Melbourne and was public drunkenness. The Coroner found police should have taken her to hospital or sought urgent medical advice, but instead they took her to a concrete cell.
While locked up, she fell and hit her head, and was left dying on the floor for three hours. Two officers responsible for her care checked on her a handful of times, which the coroner found were inadequate. By the time officers realised something was wrong, it was too late, and Day died in hospital on December 22 from a brain haemorrhage.
“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,” her family said.
“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.”
Today marks 1 year since the coronial inquest into the death of our mother Tanya Louise Day. We endured 3 weeks of heartache as we watched our mother be treated inhumanly and denied her basic human rights. #justicefortanyaday pic.twitter.com/9OWKUcAHKc
— Apryl Louise Day (@apryl__louise) August 26, 2020
Day’s death prompted Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy to announce a plan to abolish the crime of public drunkenness, which the HRLC says is used to target Aboriginal women at a rate of ten times that of non-Aboriginal women.
However, the legislation to make that change has yet to be introduced.
“The status quo of police investigating themselves and dodging accountability for Aboriginal people dying in their care must end,” Monique Hurley, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre who represented the Day family at the inquest, said in a statement.
“For as long as Premier Andrews allows police to act with impunity, deaths in custody will continue.”