Death in custody over unpaid $1,000 in parking fines
from various sources – June 2017
contributions by – Danielle Roberts
Updates listed at the foot of this item
22 year old Julieka Dhu died on the 4 August 2014 after she was locked up at South Hedland watch house to ‘pay down’ unpaid parking fines. She was arrested on the 2 August 2014 over unpaid fines. A law in Australia means that if fines go unpaid after a certain amount of time then they can be paid off through jail time. This is known as ‘pay down’. Julieka owed approximately $1,000 which was reportedly from unpaid parking fines. Her family called for an end to the practice of jailing people for unpaid fines.
According to the opposition corrections spokesman, Paul Papalia, the ‘pay down’ policy disproportionately affects Indigenous people and women and was a factor in Western Australia’s high incarceration rates.
In Australia there is no independent organisation that completes the inquiry into the death of an individual in police custody. Ms Roe, Julieka’s grandmother said that “Every time another person dies, police do their own internal report, Police officers that know each other, interview each other. In other countries like the UK, they have an external and independent person investigate – I don’t know if the police did anything wrong, but how will I ever know if we don’t have an open investigation”?
During Julieka’s stay in South Hedland watch house, she received treatment for a leg injury once she was arrested. However, throughout detention Julieka continually stated that she was seriously ill and required medical attention. She was apparently taken to the hospital two times prior to the final visit but did not actually see a doctor whilst at the hospital.
An inquest coroner ruled at the inquiry that Julieka died from pneumonia and septicaemia. In addition, there are reports that state that she suffered from broken ribs and blood on her lungs too.
CCTV footage played at the inquest clearly showed that Julieka was groaning about her pain and asking for help; when the police finally acknowledge her, they can be heard asking her to rank her pain out of 10, to which she responds 10 out of 10.
Dion Ruffin, Julieka’s partner, who was being held in the cell next to her, said that he heard her crying for help on that day, but police initially refused to take her to the hospital. Mr Ruffin, also said that, “They opened the cell, and I heard one of them say “Get up”, but she couldn’t and she was begging for help to get up and I heard a big thud, and then silence”. A second witness also came forward to corroborate the story that Dion Ruffin described.
The second witness, Malcolm Dick Wilson, 61, also collaborated with Dion and his version of events of what occurred that night. They both stated that they heard Julieka crying in pain and the police both, ignored and belittled her. The police were heard calling Julieka a ‘druggie and a mental case’.
Malcolm Wilson also stated that when Julieka was removed from her cell she was not moving, supporting claims by Dion that Julieka never died at the hospital but in fact she died at the prison. Wilson said that Julieka ‘got quiet’ and then “they dragged her on the ground” he said. He also claimed that there was an officer on either side of Julieka gripping her under her arms as they pulled her body. Wilson said there was no noise from Dhu as this was happening. He stated that she was not moving on her own.
In recent years there has been an increase in the number of indigenous people arrested or charged. As a result of the tragic and unnecessary death of Julieka, there have been requests for nurses to be stationed at prisons as well as the Custody Notification Service to be reintroduced. This is due to the fact that none of Julieka’s family knew she was in prison and she needed medical attention the moment she arrived at the prison.
Julieka’s grandmother, Carol Roe, and mother, Della Roe, said in a joint statement provided through the Human Rights Law Centre; “Our girl should have never been locked up. We are devastated. We want to make sure that something like this never happens again.”
Carol and Della have led a public campaign to reduce Western Australia’s high Indigenous incarceration rate and reduce the number of Aboriginal deaths in custody, eliciting a promise from the WA premier, Colin Barnett, on the steps of parliament 12 months ago to focus on the issue.
In March 2015 In March, the Western Australia parliament passed legislation to strengthen existing mandatory sentencing laws, which experts warned could see more Aboriginal people incarcerated.