An Aboriginal woman suffered a miserable and cruel death just days after being locked up in a Western Australian police station for not paying a fine that dated back to the time when she was a minor.
A coroner’s inquest has found the treatment of 22-year-old Julieka Dhu by police while in custody ‘unprofessional and inhumane’ and has released CCTV footage of the 2014 incident.
Daily Mail reports:
Ms Dhu, 22, died in 2014 of septicaemia and pneumonia caused by a broken rib after being held for three days in the South Headland, WA, police station.
Coroner Ros Fogliani said police were ‘unprofessional and inhumane’ in their treatment of her, in the findings of a long-running inquest in Perth.
Shocking CCTV footage released on Friday with the findings shows Ms Dhu’s limp body being dragged from her cell to a police van by two officers an hour before she was declared dead.
One of the officers first picks her up with one hand from the mattress she lay on before dropping her, sending her head slamming into the concrete floor.
An officer who came to help told the inquest she heard her colleague whisper ‘you are a f***ing junkie… you will f***ing sit this out. We will take you to hospital but you are faking it’ in Ms Dhu’s ear.
At 12.33pm on August 4, 2014, Ms Dhu was handcuffed, grabbed by her armpits and dragged backwards out of the cell where a second officer took hold of her ankles to carry her away while her ‘eyes were popping out of her head’.
She was the loaded into the back of the van and driven to South Headland Hospital, either dying in transit or soon after she arrived.
Ms Dhu, whose first name is not used for cultural reasons, was declared dead at 1.38pm after doctors spent 53 minutes trying to save her.
Footage not released at the request for her father Robert, but played at the inquest, showed her being loaded into a wheelchair and pushed into the hospital either dead or almost dead.
Other video released showed Ms Dhu lying in her cell moaning in intense pain while police berated her for not asking for help sooner and said she was ‘not helping herself’.
She died on her third visit to hospital with her symptoms being attributed to withdrawal from drugs, which she admitted to taking before her arrest, or ‘behavioural gain’.
Police repeatedly referred to her as a ‘junkie’, assuming she was coming down from drugs and faking her pain, numbness and other symptoms for attention.
They even told doctors she was ‘faking it’ when really she was in cardiac arrest and near death as a result of a golf ball-sized lump of pus growing near her broken rib.
Ms Fogliani said when delivering her finding that Ms Dhu’s death could have been prevented with proper medical treatment and police conduct was ‘well below the standards that should ordinarily be expected’.
‘Officers disregarded her welfare and right to treatment,’ she said.
‘The majority of the persons responsible for Ms Dhu’s care formed the view that she was exaggerating or feigning symptoms of being unwell.’
The coroner made 11 recommendations in her report but did not call for any charges or disciplinary action against anyone involved.
Outside court after the findings, Ms Dhu’s family said they were disappointed with the findings because ‘no one was held accountable’.
They vowed to press for criminal charges despite internal investigations and by the Corruption and Crime Commission finding no criminality.
‘Her birthday is in 10 days’ time. 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,’ her grandmother Carol Rose said.
‘There’s still no justice for our family.’
Ms Dhu was arrested along with her 41-year-old boyfriend Deon Ruffin after police were tipped off that he had breached a restraining order she had taken against him.
She had fled their allegedly abusive relationship in Geraldton, WA, but he followed her and they fought – which was how she broke her rib.
Ms Dhu had accrued seven fines for minor offences dating back to when she was a minor, but could not afford to pay them.
One of Ms Fogliani’s recommendations was to stop locking up people who fail to pay fines.