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Australia

Tanya Day's family calls for criminal investigation of police officers

The children of Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day will urge the Victorian coroner to refer individual police officers to the Director of Public Prosecutions for criminal investigation in relation to her death.

Ms Day’s family will also call on the coroner to find that systemic racism and unconscious bias was a cause of their mother’s death in custody, in their final submission to be tendered to coroner Caitlin English in court on Monday.

The children of Aboriginal woman Tanya day: L-R Kimberley Watson, Warren Stevens, Apryl Watson and Belinda Day Stevens.

The children of Aboriginal woman Tanya day: L-R Kimberley Watson, Warren Stevens, Apryl Watson and Belinda Day Stevens.Credit:Justin McManus

“These issues are almost never talked about in inquests and other court proceedings. But they played a central role in our mum’s death,” Ms Day’s children say in their final submission. “You cannot properly make findings about what has happened without considering them.”

They will ask Ms English to recommend police should not investigate allegations against other police officers.

“It is clear to us that the investigation into our mum’s death has been flawed and inadequate. This is because police should not be investigating police. What we now want is a criminal investigation,” say the Day family.

In their submission, Ms Day’s children have made the unusual choice to tell Ms Day’s story using her own voice, which they say “speaks in us”. 

Their powerful statement conveys the distress their mother experienced when she was taken into custody.

“They took me to the divvy van. I had the most terrible, sinking feeling. I knew what was going to happen now. Like my uncle Harrison, like so many of my people, I was going to be locked up in a police cell when I had done nothing wrong,” says the statement.

Ms Day died in December 2017, aged 55, after she was arrested for public drunkenness while travelling to Melbourne on a V/Line train and taken into custody in Castlemaine.

Ruth Barson, legal director at the Human Rights Law Centre, who is representing the family, said accountability is critical to prevent future deaths in custody.

“No police officer has ever been held criminally responsible for an Aboriginal person’s death in custody, despite hundreds of Aboriginal people dying in their care,” Ms Barson said.

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Ms Day’s inquest was told police officers detained the Aboriginal woman for four hours to “sober up” after she was arrested for public drunkenness, despite this approach not being part of official police guidelines.

Police also did not comply with their own guidelines for checking detainees because they were short-staffed on the night she was in custody, the inquest heard.

Leading Senior Constable Danny Wolters said a lack of staff was one of the reasons he twice left more than 40 minutes between checking on the Yorta Yorta woman, despite police guidelines requiring that an intoxicated person must be physically checked and roused every 30 minutes.

Leading Senior Constable Wolter later told the court his verbal checks on Ms Day were probably “50% inadequate”.

The Andrews government has announced public drunkenness would no longer be a crime in Victoria, in a law reform that seeks to redefine alcohol abuse as a health issue.

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