The family of a young Aboriginal woman who died in custody is set to launch legal action against the State of Western Australia.
Ms Dhu, 22, whose first name is not used for cultural reasons, was detained at the South Hedland Police Station in 2014, in WA’s Pilbara region, for unpaid fines totalling $3,622.
A coronial inquest this year found she suffered a catastrophic deterioration in her health during her three days in police custody, ultimately dying of complications arising from septicaemia.
Ms Dhu’s mother Della Roe and uncle Shaun Harris have met with law firm Levitt Robinson Solicitors, and principal senior partner Stuart Levitt said his firm would lodge a claim of misconduct leading to death in the Supreme Court of Western Australia.
It would also lodge a complaint of racial discrimination to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) which Mr Levitt said could be referred to the Federal Court.
“We’re bringing a case against the State of Western Australia, against the police involved and there’s also a medical negligence aspect to the matter as well,” he said.
The claims need to be lodged before August 4, which marks the three-year anniversary of Ms Dhu’s death, as well as the cessation of the statute of limitations presiding over the case.
Mr Levitt said he expected both claims would be launched by the end of next week.
Medical claims ignored
Four months prior she sustained two broken ribs after she was thrown to the ground by her then-partner.
One of the ribs never properly healed and became infected.
Ms Dhu’s grandmother, Carol Roe and her mother, Della, comfort each other outside the Perth Coroner’s Court in 2015 during the inquest into her death. (ABC News: Laura Gartry)
During her three days in custody, she complained of rib pain and was taken to the Hedland Health Campus.
She displayed no signs of infection and was discharged back into police custody, with a doctor diagnosing her as having behavioural issues.
She was taken to hospital again and discharged, before being finally carried out of her cell semi-conscious, taken again to hospital in the back of a police vehicle.
She was pronounced dead at the hospital.
‘We need to enforce change’
Mr Harris, another spokesman for the family, said the claims were about accountability and instigating change.
“We’re after the WA state, the WA Police, the WA Country Health Service at this point, although obviously we’ve always campaigned for accountability through all perpetrators and parties that were involved,” he said.
“We’re seeking everything we can get and we’re going to try and take them for everything we can and hold as much accountability as we possibly can.
“Without accountability there will be no justice for my niece.
“We need to enforce change, custodial change and reform, not just in Western Australia but Australia wide.
“This is a fight for our future generations, because they’re the ones that are in need of our help, our protection and our support.”
Mr Levitt was integral in securing a Federal Court outcome that saw $220,000 in damages awarded in a racial discrimination case over the 2004 riots on Palm Island.