Aboriginal death in Katherine after release from custody sparks calls for inquiry, justice

Ray Jackson, President
Indigenous Social Justice Association

Yet another tragedy coming from police intervention in the Northern Territory but this time in Katherine where Mr. Lewis, an Aboriginal man and an amputee with major health problems, was arrested at a card game and held for 24 hours in the Katherine police cells.

Like Mr. Briscoe, there are claims by witnesses that Mr. Lewis was ill-treated and brutalised by the local police. He himself complained to his family that he had been treated roughly by the police and over the 24 hours he had been given no food or drink and, worse, no medication for his diabetes.

He was released after the 24 hours in cells and he went home and then died.

Similar to the circumstances of the recent death of Mr Clark after being sent from the Alice Springs gaol to the Alice Springs hospital where he died, whereby he was refused the status of being a death in custody event, so too Mr Lewis will be fought by the NT police that he, Mr. Lewis, is also not to be categorised as a 'Death in Custody'. It is of the utmost importance that Mr. Lewis recieve a full official autopsy so as to ascertain his cause~ of death and any and all mitigating circumstances that may arise from his 24 hours spent in the Katherine police cells.

We have fought such claims and counter-claims previously and so too we must fight that Mr. Lewis is indeed accepted as a death in custody. his last known interaction with others outside of his family was a 24 hour period in the Katherine police cells. that fact alone, leaving aside the claims of his family and cell witnesses, must raise the concern of the territory coroners department, especially with the violent video footage of Mr. Briscoe being multiply assaulted by the alice springs police.

His sister, Ms. Dorris Lewis, is strongly calling for a full coronial enquiry into her brother's death and states that under no circumstances can the police version of events over that 24 hour period be allowed to be the final word in the last hours of his life. The family and their supporters especially need to view the cell and police station cameras that have Mr. Lewis shown.

We need a campaign and a lot of social muscle to ensure that the Lewis family get their day in the coroner's court. We urge all good people of sound and moral mind to write, call or email those NT parliamentarians listed below and join with the Lewis family in their fight for justice for the death of their loved one.

Dorris informs us that this is the second death in custody event that has affected the family, the first being the NT police in 2004 running over another family member and killing him. of course no charges were laid. for the family of Mr. Briscoe his was the third death in custody to touch that family. I believe that I could quite safely say that for the families living in the NT no family would be untouched by a death in custody event. and that horrific fact clearly shows just how bad the NT custodial system really is.

Patricia Morton-Thomas, the aunt of Mr. Briscoe, has visited the Lewis family to support them in their time of sorry business and need for support. She states that since 2009 there has been 5 police-related death in custody events involving police in the NT. If this does not ring alarm bells with the Terry Mills CLP government and the NT coroners that the custodial system is just not bent but shows unequivocally that the system is broken - and seriously deadly broken at that!

It seems that the NT will continue to be the killing ground of racism and change is beyond the time socially required to make that change. Will chief minister Terry Mills as the police minister and Kon Vatskalis as the shadow police minister finally accept the task of changing police practices and procedures in the Territory? Will Alison Anderson, as the minister for Indigenous advancement, argue as strongly for the much needed change that will turn the loss of Aboriginal life in the NT as she is arguing against bilingual education? I do not agree with her argument but she does have the right to put her personal view no matter how wrong it may be. John Elferink as the NT Attorney-General and Lynne Walker as the Shadow Attorney-General also must play an important role in making the required changes to be brought to a positive fruition. Delia Lawrie, as the Opposition Leader, and Terry Mills must take their parliamentary members, by the throat if necessary, and drag them into making the changes to save the lives of Aborigines who come into contact with the police.

The Territory coroner, Greg Cavanagh, also has a role to play in this social change. His being scathing of the police actions and procedures is of little value if his recommendations do not reflect his disgust, both moral and legal, in his decisions. We urge the coroner to insist that the death of Mr. Lewis must be dealt with as a bona fide 'Death in Custody' event.

It is up to us to make that happen and I call on all readers of this post to make contact with the list below to make your concerns and wishes known to those who run the system - But we need to do more than that - We need to become active and protest that the unnecessary deaths must stop.

To do that you can join our protest outside of the NSW coroners court at Parramatta Road, Glebe at 12.30 on Thursday, 1 November, 2012, to raise our support and solidarity with the families of Mr. Briscoe, Mr. Curti and Mr. Lewis. All three, in our opinion, have been badly treated at the hands of the justice system in the NT and NSW. We stand solidly in support of all families who have lost a loved one at the hands of the custodial systems and, in this case, the proven brutality of the police in both areas.

We offer our sincerest condolences to Dorris Lewis and the family, community and many friends of Mr. Lewis. We know that he now walks his land in peace.

We offer our support to the Lewis family in their struggle for justice.


Terry Mills Chief Minister and Minister for police, GPO Box 3146, Darwin 0801. (p) 08 8928 6500

John Elferink Attorney-General, PO box as above, (p) 08 8928 6615

Alison Anderson, Minister for Indigenous Advancement, PO box as above, (p) 08 8928 6587

Delia Lawrie, Leader of the opposition, PO box 3700, darwin, (p) 08 8928 6668

Lynne Walker, Shadow Attorney-General, PO box as above, (p) 08 8946 1446

Kon Vatskalis Shadow Police Minister, PO box as above, (p) 08 8946 1475

The coroner, Greg Cavanagh has no public e-mail address but contact may be made by writing to him at GPO box 1281, darwin, 0801 or (p) 08 8999 7770

I am often told that I only ever report the bad and not the good. not so, say I.

I place a report under the article for Mr. Lewis that definitely that accusation to shame.

Good news is there but very rare so herewith another good news article.


Ray Jackson
Indigenous Social Justice Association

(m) 0450 651 063
(p) 02 9318 0947

Address: 1303/200 Pitt Street, Waterloo. 2017

We live and work on the stolen lands of the Gadigal people.
Sovereignty, Treaty, Social Justice

Aboriginal death in Katherine after release from custody sparks calls for inquiry, justice

Green Left Weekly October 25, 2012

Rollback the Intervention released the statement below on October 24.

* * *

Another death of an Aboriginal man potentially involving police in the Northern Territory has sparked calls for an inquiry and urgent action to stop police harassment and brutality.

Mr E Lewis, a Warlpiri man living in Katherine, passed away shortly after being released from police custody on September 23.

Mr Lewis was a diabetic amputee, who was held in custody for more than 24 hours. He died in his sleep shortly after being released.

Family of Mr Lewis say there are many witnesses alleging he was treated~ roughly during his arrest, which occurred during a large card game in Katherine.

They also say that before his death, Mr Lewis had complained about being dragged and kicked in custody, along with being denied food, water and medication.

Mr Lewis' sister Dorris is demanding a coronial inquiry to examine the circumstances of the death. She has been unable to find out the cause of death. "We need for there to be a full inquiry into this death," she said. "It's not enough for the police to be in charge of the investigation. We feel only with an inquiry will we see the truth. And we need to see the CCTV footage from the cell right now.

"Many witnesses, non-Indigenous people too, have told our family that he was treated very roughly when he was taken into custody. He was dragged and thrown. They didn't care that he only had one leg.

"Before he passed away, my brother was telling his family that he had also been treated very roughly in the watch-house. He also said that he had not been fed or given drink or any medication. He could hardly sit up when he got home.

"After he had struggled to eat some food he went to sleep and passed away.

"We can't just let this go. We believe that the police must be held responsible. Unless there is some justice, they will just keep treating our people like this. The responsible officers need to be sacked for how they treated my brother.

"In 2004, we lost another family member from the police. They ran him over like a dog. All they did was pay some money and that was forgotten, no police got charged. This wouldn't happen to a non-Indigenous person. We need justice to be done for these deaths or it will keep happening.

"We don't see that the police are here to keep Australia in peace, or keep our town safe. Some police are nice and doing a good, real job. But others are going around dragging and bashing Aboriginal people and mistreating whether they are drunk or sober. We feel that they are doing criminal things themselves but always get away with it. Why can't we all treat each other with respect in this country and live as one?"

Patricia Morton-Thomas, spokesperson for the family of Kwementyaye Briscoe, who died in police custody in January, has visited the family of Mr Lewis in Katherine. Ms Morton-Thomas has pledged to fight to uncover the truth about his death and see that justice is done.

"This is now the fifth death in suspicious circumstances involving police or corrections staff since 2009 and the body count is unacceptable," Morton-Thomas said. "The Northern Territory government must do something urgently about the brutality and harassment that our people are experiencing at the hands of the police.

"Despite what happened to my nephew, my families consistent calls for justice and for the police department to change their ways, they are ignoring us and continuing with their inhumane treatment of Aboriginal people.

"We encourage all families who are victims of police brutality to join with us in the call for justice."

[For more information phone Dorris Lewis 0467 044 795, Patricia Morton-Thomas 0432 612 105.]

Policeman loses appeal against assault conviction

Carolyn Herbert ABC News Oct 26, 2012

Policeman's appeal against assault conviction fails Photo: Dismissing the appeal, Chief Justice Trevor Riley said there was "no explanation for the offending". (ABC TV)

A Northern Territory Police officer who was found guilty of assaulting a man in police custody has had an appeal against his conviction dismissed.

In July, an Alice Springs magistrate heard that Constable Ashley Burkhart used his arm to hit 28 year-old-Joshua Robertson on the head while he was in police custody.

The constable argued he was acting in self-defence because he thought Mr Robertson was going to spit at him or head-butt him.

Magistrate Greg Borchers said Mr Robertson was unable to defend himself because his arms were restrained behind his back and handcuffed.

Constable Burkhart was convicted and fined $400.

He appealed against the conviction.

In the Supreme Court in Darwin, Chief Justice Trevor Riley agreed with the ruling of Mr Borchers.

Chief Justice said there was "no explanation for the offending".

The appeal was dismissed and the conviction upheld.