Family of Ms Dhu sue for neglect
The family of Ms Dhu — the young Aboriginal woman who died in police custody while paying off fines — have personally sued the police officers they blame for her death, as well as the State of Western Australia.
Ms Dhu, a Yamatji woman, died from septicaemia and pneumonia in August 2014, three days after she was locked up in South Hedland Police Station for failing to pay just over $3000 in outstanding fines.
In a writ filed with WA’s District Court this month, Ms Dhu’s mother, grandmother and uncle are claiming damages for the negligence and “misfeasance” of the WA Police and the WA Country Health Service
Lawyers for Ms Dhu’s family have also named four police officers personally in the writ, including Rick Bond, the officer in charge of the station at the time, and Sophie Edwards, the station’s only Aboriginal liaison officer.
If they are found to have acted negligently in their duties they could be liable to pay some of the damages the family are claiming.
The writ, drafted by Sydneybased law firm Levitt Robinson, claims damages for the family as a dependant of Ms Dhu, who was 22 when she died.
Alternatively, the family also claim damages “for psychiatric injuries/nervous shock they suffered and punitive and exemplary damages as a result of the death”.
“Caused by the misfeasance in public office of the police officers and health-care workers employed by the defendant or its agencies,” the writ says.
Also named in the writ are officers Christopher Matier and Sally Burgess — the two officers who are seen in CCTV footage removing and dragging the handcuffed Ms Dhu from her cell to take her to hospital.
The same law firm is planning to lodge a complaint of racial discrimination about Ms Dhu’s treatment to the Australian Human Rights Commission.
The writ followed the findings of a lengthy and emotional inquest into Ms Dhu’s death, after which coroner Ros Fogliani was scathing about the treatment of the young woman on August 2, 3 and 4, 2014, at the Hedland Health Campus and the police station.
She described Ms Dhu’s treatment as “appalling, unprofessional and inhumane”, and said her death “unleashed a wave of grief that has reverberated through the Aboriginal communities”.