Not another Death In Custody! ... in the Northern Territory

Media Release

24 October 2012

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

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. 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", said Dorris Lewis.

"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?", concluded Dorris Lewis.

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. 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", concluded Ms Morton-Thomas.

For more information contact:
Dorris Lewis 0467 044 795
Patricia Morton-Thomas 0432 612 105
Mainstream Media Report

NT police accused over man's death

Xavier La Canna The Australian 24, 2012

A family in the Northern Territory are claiming police mistreatment caused the death of an Aboriginal man after he left a lock-up.

Doris Lewis, the sister of Eric Lewis, said her brother died early in the morning on September 23, soon after being released from police custody in the outback town of Katherine.

Mr Lewis suffered from diabetes and needed regular medication, Ms Lewis said.

"We are blaming police. He had just come from the police station, the watch house," Ms Lewis told AAP.

In a statement, police denied Mr Lewis's death occurred soon after he left police custody.

Acting Commander Michael White said Mr Lewis was taken into custody at 5.20pm (CST) on Friday, September 21 for a number of offences relating to an incident at the Katherine Hotel.

He said Mr Lewis was interviewed, charged and refused bail, although on Saturday at 2.16pm he was given bail and taken home by police.

"Just before 2.30am on Sunday the 23rd of September 2012 authorities were called to his house where subsequent attempts to resuscitate him failed," the acting commander said.

Asked about the police statement, Ms Lewis said it was wrong and that her brother did not return home from the police lock-up until the early hours of Sunday, and died just a short time later.

She said that after leaving the watch house, Mr Lewis complained he was not given any medicine, food or water, and that he had been dragged and kicked by police.

When he returned home he could barely sit up, she said.

Ms Lewis said witnesses had also seen her brother, a Warlpiri man who was a diabetic amputee and used a wheelchair to get around in, roughly handled by police during his arrest.

"They (police) lifted him up and threw him in the paddy wagon without his wheelchair, and that is the last the family saw him alive," she said.

The arrest is believed to have followed an altercation between Mr Lewis and a bouncer at a local pub.

"My brother had left the premises. He walked away," Ms Lewis said.

She said he went to a nearby place where people were playing cards, and was involved in a card game when police arrested him.

Ms Lewis has called for a coronial inquiry to examine the circumstances surrounding the death.

"Unless there is some justice, they will just keep treating our people like this," Ms Lewis said.

Police urged anyone with information that could assist the coroner to contact the NT Coroner's Office.

"If anyone has any information regarding Mr Lewis's period in custody or alleged impropriety by police, they can contact the ombudsman," Acting Commander White said.

The death of Mr Lewis comes soon after a coroner's findings critical of the treatment of Kwementyaye Briscoe, who died in a police lock-up in Alice Springs earlier this year.

Mr Briscoe's aunt, Patricia Morton-Thomas, said Mr Lewis's death was the fifth in suspicious circumstances involving police or corrections since 2009.

"The Northern Territory government must do something urgently about the brutality and harassment that our people are experiencing at the hand

s of the police," she said.