The family of Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day, who died in 2017 from injuries sustained in a country Victoria police station say they are ‘devastated’ that two police officers on duty on the day of the incident have escaped serious disciplinary action.
Victoria Police have confirmed there had been no serious sanctions against Sergeant Edwina Neale or Leading Senior Constable Danny Wolters, the two officers referred by Deputy State Coroner Caitlin English for potential criminal charges over the high profile death in custody.
Prosecutors announced in August that there would be no charges against the officers and Victoria Police say an allegation against Sergeant Neale Could not be substantiated while Leading Senior Constable Wolters was given ‘guidance’ over an internal investigation charge of ‘failure of duty’.
Ms Day’s death from injuries sustained in a fall in the cells of the Castlemaine Police Station in December 2017 came after she had been detained for public drunkenness.
Her family provided a statement to The Age on Friday, telling of their devastation and anger about what they call the lack of accountability over their mother’s death.
“We remain devastated and angry that the two police officers who failed to properly check on our mum have been let off,” the statement read.
“No police officer has ever been held criminally responsible for an Aboriginal person’s death in custody, and our mum’s case shows why it’s wrong for police to be investigating the actions of their own colleagues.
“When someone dies at the hands of the police, the law should require a transparent investigation, so that there can be truth and accountability.”
In the wake of the tragedy the state government has said it will remove the offence of public drunkenness from the statute books.
But Victoria Police, who told the coronial inquiry that it had made no changes to its practices or procedures as a result of Ms Day’s death, confirmed this week that its internal investigation into its two officers had resulted in no serious disciplinary action.
“In December 2018 a sergeant and leading senior constable were the subject of a disciplinary investigation,” a spokeswoman said.
“The allegation around the conduct of the sergeant was not substantiated.
“The leading senior constable was provided workplace guidance following a charge of duty failure.“
In its civil action against the police and the State of Victoria, lodged with the Supreme Court this month, members of the Day family allege the government and police are liable for their relative’s death because they unlawfully detained Ms Day, failed to exercise due care when she was under arrest, and by their negligence caused her death.
They also claim Ms Day’s status as an Aboriginal woman was closely linked to her mistreatment by police, and that the state government was aware of the impact this has in carrying out policing.
Police Minister Lisa Neville said police discipline was a matter for the force itself.
“Tanya Day’s death was tragic – the coronial findings handed down earlier this year were another clear reminder that we must do better,” the minister said.
“Nearly 30 years ago, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommended that Victoria abolish the offence of public drunkenness – we have listened to community, and with the help of sustained advocacy from Tanya’s family, we have introduced legislation to change this law and establish a health-led model that is culturally safe.”
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