The mother of fifteen year old Melbourne boy, Tyler Cassidy, who was shot dead by police in 2008, has progressed her individual communication to the United Nation’s Human Rights Committee aimed at highlighting Australia’s failure to ensure police-related deaths are properly investigated by an independent body.
In March, Ms Cassidy filed a reply in response a submission from the Australian Government. Ms Cassidy hopes that her complaint will help to change the system to be become more fair and independent, so that other families don’t have to go through the suffering that she did.
“It’s important that deaths like Tyler’s are investigated properly by a truly independent body rather than by the police themselves. It’s taken a long time to get to this point and I understand a ruling from the UN is still some time away, but I’m glad we’re getting closer to a outcome,” said Ms Cassidy.
The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Advocacy & Strategic Litigation, Anna Brown, who has been assisting Ms Cassidy, said that the complaint was emblematic of a systemic problem.
“Sadly, in no state in Australia do we have a system where an independent body takes the investigation out of the hands of police. Ensuring that these deaths are independently investigated makes common sense and complies with international human rights law,” said Ms Brown.
Since the complaint was filed in 2013, there continue to be police shootings across Australia that are investigated by members of the same police force responsible for the death.
“When I saw that NSW police had shot that poor young woman with Asperger’s syndrome, I couldn’t believe that all these years later nothing has changed and police are still investigating their own mistakes. If we want to learn, we need to make sure the investigation is done properly,” said Ms Cassidy.
Only 73 seconds elapsed between the police first approaching Tyler and him being shot dead, during which time he was sprayed with capsicum foam twice and answered a phone call. Ten shots were fired, five of which hit Tyler.
Ms Cassidy is angered that the police officers who killed her son were not treated as suspects. Contrary to usual practices of dealing with people involved in homicides, the interviews of the police officers who shot Tyler were not audio or video recorded – only written statements were provided. By contrast, Ms Cassidy said investigating officers treated her and her family like criminals and even secretly recorded conversations and meetings with police.
In its submission the Australian Government acknowledges the "regrettable practices" that occurred during the investigation into Tyler's death, and refers to a number of changes which are said to have been made to investigative processes since Tyler's death. However, critically, the conduct of the primary investigation into the death remains in the hands of police.
“In the same way that employers don’t investigate workplace deaths, the police shouldn’t investigate deaths where police are involved. Their interest in the welfare and reputation of their officers and their organisation conflicts with ensuring that the investigation is conducted in a completely impartial and independent manner,” said Ms Brown.
The reply submission coincides with the new Victorian Government committing to consult widely on changes to the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission, which subsumed the former Office of Police Integrity. The HLRC and Ms Cassidy hope that her complaint will prompt consideration of a properly independent and effective model of investigation of police related deaths in Victoria and elsewhere in Australia.
“When things go wrong, it’s critical that we have faith in the impartiality and credibility of investigations into the death – this is in the public interest and also in the interest of the families of victims and officers involved. The good news is, we can learn from examples overseas and take practical steps to ensure this happens,” Ms Brown said.
The reply submission and original communication was prepared for Ms Cassidy by the Human Rights Law Centre with the generous pro bono assistance of leading law firm Allens and barrister Tim Goodwin, and outlines the case for the Committee to find that Australia is in breach of its obligation to uphold the right to life by failing to introduce independent investigations into deaths resulting from the use of force by police.
Background to the Communication and Reply submission can be found here.
A copy of the entire Communication can be found here.
A copy of the Government’s submission can be found here.
A copy of Ms Cassidy’s Reply submission can be found here.
Please note that Shani Cassidy will not be making any further statements to the media, but her full public statement made when the complaint was lodged can be found here.
For further comment or information, please contact:
HRLC Director of Strategic Litigation, Anna Brown, via firstname.lastname@example.org or 0422 235 522