Was Terrance bashed to death by Alice Springs police?

Indymedia 7th Jan 2012

... Police claim he died of 'a lung complication'

On Thursday 5th January a 28-year-old inebriated Aboriginal man died in a police cell in Alice Springs. Friends arrested with him claim he was bashed to death by four male and one female police officers. Police say he fell, injuring his head. At first they said this caused a heart attack. They later said he died of 'a lung complication.' Whatever that is!

The family of Terrance Daniel Briscoe say that approximately four weeks prior to his death he had returned to the family home with injuries he claimed had been inflicted by two Alice Springs police officers, one of whom was of Aboriginal descent.

Mr Briscoe was the nephew of the prominent late Aboriginal Deaths in Custody activist, Letty Scott, who fought a twenty-year battle with the Australian and Northern Territory legal system for justice in the remand death of her husband, Douglas Scott.

Below are comments by deaths in custody campaigner, Ray Jackson, a letter to the Northern Territory Chief Minister, Paul Raymond Henderson, an article to a website and a police statement.

From Ray Jackson
President, Indigenous Social Justice Association

Ray Jackson, President Indigenous Social Justice Association
Ray Jackson, President
Indigenous Social Justice Assn.
(Socialist Alliance NSW - 2006)

[On Friday 6 January the police informed the family that terrance daniel briscoe did not die from a heart attack but from 'a lung complication.' whatever that is! fkj]

for those who mismanage the custodial systems of australia, and in this case, specifically the northern territory police, it becomes quite apparent that, still, they arrogantly refuse to learn from history and so blithely continue to perpetrate the same errors of judgement on their duty of care to those they have a responsibility for whilst in their watch-house.

terrance daniel briscoe was arrested by the alice springs police for public drunkenness and died in the police cell, allegedly of a heart attack. terrance was 28 years old.

as is usual in these situations there are at least two versions of the events of that day and evening.

the first, the so-called 'official' version, is that terrance was in a public place in a state of inebriation and was arrested for his own protection, aka protective custody. he was transported to the watch-house and it is stated that whilst in the cell he is said to have fallen over and injured his head in the fall. despite the injury it is believed that no medical treatment was sought by the police on duty at that time to tend to the wound suffered by terrance from the fall. some time later he was found to be not breathing and was pronounced to be dead. the police, as usual, have already stated that the death in custody had absolutely nothing to do with them. this is the usual modus operandi of all police, australia-wide.

before moving on to what i call the 'family/community' version we have a need to first look once more at the 339 royal commission recommendations whereby it become most apparent what the refusal by the australian police, in toto, to accept any of the recommendations means to the life of an aborigine or torres strait islander. for us, too often, arrest becomes a death sentence followed by the obligatory white-wash and cover-up. The useless deaths of mr. ward, mulrunji doomadgee, veronica baxter and tj hickey are clear examples of this process among so so many others. 400+ deaths since 1980 or put another way, one death in custody per month for 372 months. or another way, 13+ deaths per year. this is, of course, totally unacceptable but because they are black deaths there seems to be little attention to this horrible harvest and even of less concern. this occurs for all deaths in custody but public compassion or interest is virtually unknown.

daniel taylor, who is related to terrance by marriage to letty scott, correctly points out that all deaths in custody must be treated as per r35a/b that states the following:

that police standing orders or (police commissioner) instructions provide specific directions as to the conduct of investigations into the circumstances of a death in custody. as a matter of guidance and without limiting the scope of such directions as may be determined, it is the view of the commission that such directions should require, inter alia, that: a) investigations should be approached on the basis that the death may be a homicide. suicide should never be presumed; b) all investigations should extend beyond an enquiry into whether death occurred as a result of criminal behaviour and should include inquiry into the lawfulness of the custody and the general care, treatment and supervision of the deceased prior to death;

this recommendation is most important in looking into the circumstances of any arrest, especially the legality of such an arrest. medical treatment, if required, must also be enquired into and reasons found for its occurrence or of not being granted. it is my opinion that the commissioners well knew, after investigating 100 deaths in custody, that some police were certainly involved in some of those deaths and homicide must be seriously considered by the police investigation team and the coroner. that this does not really happen would come as no great surprise.

r60 a/b, looking at the arrest and incarceration of aborigines by police, states: that police services take all possible steps to eliminate: a) violent or rough treatment or verbal abuse of aboriginal persons including women and young people, by police officers, and b) the use of racist or offensive language, of the use of racist or derogatory comments in log books and other documents, by police officers. when such conduct is found to have occurred, it should be treated as a serious breach of discipline.

no police officer, to the best of my knowledge, has ever been disciplined for breaching this recommendation. we know this continues every day.

in the recommendations dealing with diversion from police custody, the commissioners believed very strongly that to save lives the police should have other solutions rather than arrest. r79 states that, in jurisdictions where drunkenness has not been decriminalised, governments should legislate to abolish the offence of public drunkenness, and r80 states that the abolition of the offence of drunkenness should be accompanied by adequately funded programs to establish and maintain non-custodial facilities for the care and treatment of intoxicated persons. r81 states that legislation decriminalising drunkenness should place a statutory duty upon police to consider and utilise alternatives to the detention of intoxicated persons in police cells. alternatives should include the options of taking the intoxicated person home or to a facility established for the care of intoxicated persons. r87a states that all police services should adopt and apply the principle of arrest being the sanction of last resort, whilst r87b states that police administrators should train and instruct police officers accordingly and should closely check that this principle is carried out in practice.

whilst alice springs does have a sobering up centre, along with other detox and rehab centres, the nt governments since 1991 have not decriminalised public drunkenness as they have argued that as alice springs is a thriving tourist centre then stronger laws must apply than in other areas. both residents and tourists must be fully protected from drunks. whatever the circumstance however there does seem from time to time to resistance to taking certain people to the sobering-up centres and the police are more relaxed with putting that person in cells. Such practices have led directly to death in custody issues but this does not deter the police from doing it. i can only, therefore believe that they have some other motive for doing so. such arrests allow for the notification of the situation, including identification and reasons for being placed in cells, to the aboriginal legal service who would be expected to visit the detainee as soon as possible. whether this was carried out is not known. bail, or the lack of it, would also be passed on to the als.

there are of course other recommendations that i could transcribe here but this is enough to show that terrance was badly handled and his rights, drunk or sober, were completely ignored. such ignorance has led to his untimely death. we now need to consider the 'family/community' version of events from the time of arrest and being placed in the cells and the circumstances of his death.

the authorative and united voices of the alice springs police have already been heard as they manage the message that is given out to the media. The most important claim, in their eyes, is to establish that they are all innocent, they had nothing to do with the death and all fault must be placed at the feet of the victim and the involved family. this was the outcome of all police deaths in custody during the royal commission and it has not changed. if you’re on a good thing, stick with it no matter how outlandish their 'evidence' becomes.

young terrance daniel briscoe is a nephew of that indefatigable fighter for justice, ms. letty scott, who fought the nt police, gaol and court systems for over 20 years prior to her passing in february 2004. for those who may wish to know more of that great battle i refer you to isja.org.au to our newsletters, some of which give in detail reports on the murder of her then-husband, douglas bruce scott and her struggle for justice.

the similarities between terrance and douglas are chilling and show nothing less than the custodial systems are outweighed against justice for aboriginal people in the nt. both men were arrested for drunkenness and being a public nuisance. both men were isolated and assaulted, douglas in berrimah gaol and terrance at the alice springs police cells. both men subsequently died.

the family and community where terrance lived has been told by eye witnesses in the watch-house at the time that terrance was put one-out in a cell and then 4 male police officers and 1 female police officer entered the cell and proceeded to flog him. would this have caused his death? of course it would. the police will vigorously deny any such involvement and claim that terrance fell, bashing his head and that led to him having a heart attack. so many of our people have died of heart attacks since the invasion i can only wonder how we survived for over 60 000 years as a recognised healthy and manly populace. so too our women folk.

the police, after laying their false trails in the media then state that no one else can possibly have anything to say as the case is to go before the coroner. what the outcome of the police investigation into the death in custody incident involving other police comes as no big surprise. exoneration with a capital e!

because the commissioners had some disquiet over the practice of police investigating police they recommended strict procedures of the practices to be instituted in the investigation and coronial processes of a death in custody. r19 and r20 state that immediate notification of a death in custody must be made to the family and then to the aboriginal legal service. r29, after the police investigation they are to report the brief of evidence directly to the coroner to allow the coroner to decide whether a coronial inquest should take place. r11 states that all deaths in custody be the subject of a coronial inquiry. r12 states that a coroner inquiring into a death in custody be required by law to investigate not only the cause and circumstances of the death but also the quality of the care, treatment and supervision of the deceased prior to death. r23 states that the family of the deceased be entitled to legal representation at the inquest and that government pay reasonable costs of such representation through legal aid schemes or otherwise. some families are erroneously told that they must use the relevant als but this is not the case. private representation may be sought.

r24, families are given the opportunity to inspect the scene of death. r25 allows the family to view the body, to have an independent observer at the autopsy (for cultural and respect purposes), as well as being able to engage an independent medical practitioner to also be present at the post mortem. the family is also granted the right to call for a second autopsy from an independent medical practitioner that they nominate.

all of the above recommendations count for naught as they have not been officially adopted as daily practices despite wafflings to the contrary by governments and their custodial departments. i still ask the question, however, of how many aboriginal, torres strait islanders and others who have died over the previous 20+ years would be alive today had the recommendations been properly implemented and enforced. who knows?

the nt coroner has much to do in this inquest to sort fact from fiction and much will be dependent on the eye witnesses and whether they will become the focus of unwanted police focus. i can only urge them to remain strong and true to the memory of terrance daniel briscoe.

there has been a call for support to the family, especially his aunt patricia morton-thomas on 0432612105.

please also make contact with the nt chief minister paul raymond henderson mla. he is also the police minister. Contact: GPO Box 3146, Darwin NT 0801 | Telephone: 08 8901 4000, Facsimile: 08 8901 4099 | Email: Chief.Minister@nt.gov.au

to the family, community and friends of terrance daniel briscoe i offer my heartfelt condolences and respect and know that he walks his lands in peace.

Fkj, ray jackson, president, indigenous social justice association | isja01@internode.on.net | (m) 0450 651 063 (p) 02 9318 0947 | address 1303/200 pitt street, waterloo 2017 | www.isja.org.au

we live and work on the stolen lands of the gadigal people. sovereignty treaty social justice

Sent to Chief Minister of the Northern Territory

Daniel Taylor & Letty Scott
(Pic: Tracker)

Daniel Taylor, who is related to Terrance by marriage to Letty Scott, sent the following to Paul Henderson, the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory

It was not an easy death for Terrance Daniel Briscoe, aged 28, early this morning Thursday 5th January 2012 in protective custody at the Alice Springs police lockup.

But for the people of Alice Springs, Terry's death is as unremarkable as so much of road kill on the Stuart Highway, which cuts through town on its way from Adelaide to Darwin. All the respectable folk in town could get pissed to their hearts content at the local pub, and perhaps catch a taxi home, blissfully unaware of the events in the lockup down the road. For Aboriginal people, and for Mr Briscoe in particular it's the usual story of a casual drink with friends, then being taken into protective custody by police, conflicting reports of a bashing or a fall in custody, no medical care, and a one way trip to the cemetery.

The police say Terry injured his head by falling while in custody and later died of cardiac arrest. He was only 28. Terry's friends who were arrested with him say they saw five officers bash him.

Wonder we all do how Terry was healthy when arrested, and zipped into a body bag when released.

How and why? How Terry died will no doubt be the matter of much dispute. Will the police be able to collaborate on their stories? Or if the investigation is to be worth its salt are they to be separated and put off duty while the investigation proceeds.

Why didn't Terry receive any medical attention for his injuries?

And why was Terry arrested at all. Is the Northern Territory zero tolerance policy on public drinking, just a policy for locking up Aboriginal people? If the intervention is forcing Aboriginal people to migrate off their homelands and come to Alice Springs, that's not a reason to lock them up in protective custody. And how protective is protective custody? Since the Northern Territory Intervention did away with the Community Development Employment Program, it has reduced the capacity of local Aboriginal communities to support their members in all of their situations and difficulties, including support and help for those who are drunk.

Most of us have been drunk at some stage in our lives, but for Terry it meant being taken into protective custody. I've met many indigenous people who literally don't touch a drop over the last several decades.

The indigenous community has the highest rate of non-drinkers of all the community groups in Australia.

If the information that Terry Briscoe was subjected to a bashing is proven, then there is every reason to believe that it has something to do with his subsequent death.

If Terry had been alive 50 years ago men like him would have been the backbone of the Northern Territory economy, and one hundred years ago men like him would have been warriors of their tribes, knowledgeable, fit and capable men.

Now Terry has been reduced to another death in protective custody. Australia is diminished for it.

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. Any death in custody, especially given the circumstances here, is to be treated as a homicide unless it is shown to be otherwise. That means that the investigation must proceed with serious intent to get to the truth at all costs.

Daniel Taylor wadaye@gmail.com

Report sent by Daniel Taylor to the electronic magazine Crikey

Terrance Daniel Briscoe, a 28 year old Anmatyerre Aboriginal man died today in the Alice Springs Police lockup after being taken into custody for public drunkenness.

The family of 28 year old Terrance Daniel Briscoe were informed by Northern Territory Police at approximately 6:30 am on the 5th of January that Mr Briscoe had been arrested for public drunkenness and taken into the care of the Alice Springs police force where he suffered a heart attack and died.

The police further informed the family that while in their care, Mr Briscoe had fallen over and sustained a head injury before being locked away. A while later a Police officer noted that Mr Briscoe had ceased breathing and emergency CPR was initiated but he was unable to be resuscitated.

However the accounts of a couple of young men who were also arrested in Mr Briscoe’s company tell a very different story. The family had been informed by these young men that they had witnessed the bashing of Mr Briscoe by four male and one female Police Officer.

Mr Briscoe’s family are distressed at the massive conflicts between information supplied by the Alice Springs Police and the men who claim to have witnessed his beating.

Their concern is further exasperated by the knowledge that approximately four weeks prior to Mr Briscoe’s demise in custody, he had returned to the family home with injuries he claimed had been inflicted by two Alice Springs Police officers, one of whom was of Aboriginal descent. When urged to report the incident and lay charges against the offending officers, Mr Briscoe claimed he was afraid of the repercussions of the Alice Springs Police should he follow this course of action and opted to let the incident go unreported.

Mr Briscoe's family want to know why he was denied urgent medical care after sustaining these injuries.

Mr Briscoe’s family are highly suspicious and anxious for the truth of his death while custody be fully investigated and handled in an independent and competent investigation and call for an independent autopsy by a forensic pathologist to be nominated by the family.

The family of Terrence Briscoe calls on all Australians interested in Justice regardless of race or colour to call on the Northern Territory Authorities to ensure a full and absolutely impartial investigation into the circumstances of the arrest and death of Mr Briscoe.

Mr Briscoe was the nephew of the prominent late Aboriginal Deaths in Custody activist Letty Scott who fought a twenty year battle with the Australian and Northern Territory legal system for Justice in the remand death of her husband, Douglas Scott.

Any excessive use of force upon Mr Briscoe beyond that permitted by law, must be dealt with decisively by bringing those responsible to justice.

For further information contact Mr Briscoe's aunt Patricia Morton-Thomas on 0432612105.

The police statement

Death in Custody - Alice Springs
Thursday 05-Jan-2012 09:31 AM

Northern Territory Police are investigating a Death in Custody that occurred in the Alice Springs Watch House overnight.

The 27-year-old man was taken into Protective Custody by Police about 2130.

A routine cell check just after 0200 this morning found the man to be unconscious.

CPR was commenced and St Johns Ambulance attended but the 27-year-old was later pronounced dead at the Alice Springs Hospital.

“Police are currently investigating the Death in Custody on behalf of the Coroner and therefore no further details will be provided at this time.” Said Commander Peter Bravos.