Accountability and justice for death: Amnesty

Accountability and justice must be delivered for yet another Aboriginal death in custody


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Family of Terrance Briscoe

Amnesty International 10 January 2012

Amnesty International is deeply disappointed by the Northern Territory Police Association President Vince Kelly's comments alleging Aboriginal poor health and alcoholism as key factors contributing towards deaths in police custody.

"The tragic death of Terrance 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," said Claire Mallinson, National Director of Amnesty International Australia.

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

Amnesty International welcomes the coronial and police investigations into Mr Briscoe's death but also calls for an impartial investigation of the highest standard, independent of the police responsible for Mr Briscoe's custody.

"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," said Mallinson.

Amnesty International last year wrote to then Attorney-General Robert McLellend expressing concern about the outcome of investigations into the deaths of Mr Doomadgee and Mr Ward and urging him to take all possible steps to increase the protection of individuals held in police custody.

The organisation calls for all levels of government to implement the 339 recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in 1991.

"We are particularly concerned at the failure to implement the recommendations directed at ensuring all deaths in custody are as rigorously investigated as homicides in a transparent and impartial manner.

"People in custody must be treated in accordance with the international standards that Australia has sworn to uphold. It's high time Federal, State and Territory Governments made sure that proper standards of care are implemented and adhered to," said Mallinson.

Death in custody protesters rally

Emma Sleath ABC Alice Springs

As the death of Terrance Daniel Briscoe in an Alice Springs police cell last week continues to feature in the national media, family and supporters of the deceased man are vowing to fight for justice

Family, friends and supporters are rallying around the cause of a Central Australian man who died in police custody early on Thursday morning.

Anmatyerre Aboriginal man Terrance Daniel Briscoe, 28, died in the Alice Springs watch-house after being placed in protective custody.

Family allege he was beaten by police officers before his death.

Over the weekend, supporters gathered on Stuart Highway north of town, holding signs condemning police brutality and calling for an end to black deaths in custody.

A candlelight vigil was also held opposite the Alice Springs Police Station on Sunday evening.

A statement released to media over the weekend said:

"The people of Alice Springs demand justice, and are calling for an independent inquiry into the young man's death."

"The Northern Territory police cannot be trusted to conduct their own investigation."

The request was echoed in an open letter from the deceased's uncle, Daniel Taylor, sent on Friday to the Chief Minister Paul Henderson.

"I ask that your government ensure that Terry's death is not in vain. A thorough and impartial investigation must be carried out to ensure that the whole truth of the circumstances of his death are investigated and the truth achieved," he states.

Chief Minister Paul Henderson told the ABC last week that the investigation will be independent.

"I'm assured by the Police Commissioner that an independent major crime task force has been employed, the Police Integrity Commission has been deployed, that legal people have been deployed to independently from Alice Springs Police Station, look and understand how this young man died."

"They are acting on behalf of the coroner," he said.

Candle-light Vigil

Supporters and family members held a candlelight vigil opposite the Alice Springs police station on Sunday evening.

Supporter of the Briscoe family, Natalie Keene, says several hundred people attended, including extended family members of the deceased.

"It was quite amazing the diverse range of people there, young to old, and everybody sitting together, knowing the reason why we were there, sitting in silence and mourning together."

Speaking at the vigil were Mr Briscoe's aunt, Patricia Morton-Thomas and cousin of the deceased, Dean Jakamara Briscoe.

Ms Keene says the vigil will be held every Sunday evening on the courthouse lawns 'until there is justice for the Briscoe family.'

Police say they are continuing their investigation into the death in custody on behalf of the NT Coroner.

They say a report will be handed to the Coroner on completion of the investigation and as such they are not at liberty to discuss details surrounding the investigation as comment is a matter for the Coroner's Office.

Territory police 'need to go further' in alcohol crackdown


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Valentine Palmer (right)

Rebecca Puddy The Australian January 09, 2012

Northern Territory police have not gone far enough in cracking down on alcohol-related crime in Alice Springs.

So says opposition indigenous affairs spokesman Adam Giles, despite the death of an Aborigine in custody after he was picked up for drinking on Wednesday.

"There needs to be a greater presence of police on the streets at regular intervals, not just special operations in an election year," Mr Giles said.

"We need a regular police force with at least 20 additional officers to make it safe for locals and attract tourists back to Alice Springs."

Increased vigilance from police has raised tensions in the desert community, with the death of Terrance Briscoe, 28, in a police cell on Wednesday night pushing those tensions to tipping point.

Mr Giles has declined to comment on Mr Briscoe's death because it is before the coroner.

Last night Mr Briscoe's family revealed they were considering seeking a second, independent autopsy into his death.

Aborigines in town yesterday visiting from outer communities claimed police were unfairly targeting Aborigines drinking in public, which was only making the situation in Alice Springs worse.

Valentine Palmer from Utopia, 270km north of Alice Springs, who was drinking with friends on the banks of the Todd River, said police "follow blackfellas after they leave bottle shops to see where they go".

"There's mostly blackfellas in the jails and they're so full people are having to sleep on the floors," Mr Palmer said. "There are some good police but there's also some bad ones who are rough and hurt you."

NT Correctional Services last night revealed 573 prisoners were being held at the Alice Springs Correctional Centre, with a further 50 at the Barkley workcamp.

The Justice Department website says the correction centre has room for 400.

Extra police were brought into Alice Springs from Darwin and other communities to increase the local force to 170 to deal with a crime wave last summer after an influx from remote communities.

Mr Giles said the impact of crime and alcoholism in the town centre was obvious, with small businesses closing because of a steep fall in tourism after last summer.

"Improved police presence has decreased the numbers of people out on the streets," he said. "Our key industries were tourism and social welfare but the tourism has stopped so now we're a town that is suffering economically."

It is understood police took Mr Briscoe into protective custody for the night after he was found illegally drinking in a park near the Flynn Drive IGA supermarket.

Long-term Alice Springs resident and outstation general manager Scott McConnell said protective custody was being abused by police, saying they were detaining people purely based on their potential to cause trouble.

He said the jails and police cells were full with Aborigines who had moved from communities that were uninhabitable. "They're not dealing with the issues behind all of this and it will be the first of many deaths in custody this summer," Mr McConnell said.

"There has been a systematic failure in policy for the past 30 years . . . Right now, if you're black and you sneeze in Alice Springs, you get locked up."

Family and friends of Mr Briscoe staged a vigil last night outside Alice Springs police station.

Amid unsubstantiated allegations within the close-knit community that Mr Briscoe had been bashed by police, aunt Patricia Morton-Thomas yesterday called for cool heads until official investigations were complete.

"This next stage of grief is anger and I'm afraid if we start blaming the police, young men in our family will retaliate," Ms Morton-Thomas said.

"We are not laying any judgment on the NT police force and there are some very good police officers out there who joined for the right reasons . . . We don't know what happened, there's an investigation under way and we are waiting for answers.

"We are still considering whether we will arrange a separate autopsy because they wouldn't allow a member of the family to be present for the official one. I want justice, and justice is simply the truth."

Comments

NT Intervention

When will the Commonwealth Government act, and intervene in the Central Australian Department of Health? I want to see an army of executives, senior case managers and experienced case coordinators come to Alice Springs and remove the inexperienced, inefficient, and ethically bereft imports from States where they couldn't get a job in their own bureaucracies. We need an Intervention into the Central Australian Department of Health.

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