Renewed calls for independent investigations of police related deaths as NSW coronial inquest commences

With the coronial inquest into the fatal police Taser shooting of 21 year old Brazilian student Roberto Curti commencing today, a leading human rights organisation has renewed calls for investigations into police related deaths to be entirely independent – in keeping with international law. The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Advocacy and Strategic Litigation, Anna Brown, is highly critical about the current practice of police units conducting primary investigations and preparing evidence briefs for the Coroner in such cases.

“Imagine the outcry if employers were left with the responsibility for investigating deaths in their own workplace. The risks of corruption and collusion would be real, the investigations would lack transparency and legitimacy and there would be a decline in accountability,” Ms Brown said.

Mr Curti was chased by up to 11 officers and tasered 11 times after he allegedly stole a packet of biscuits from a convenience store on nearby King St and resisted arrest. The final shock caused Mr Curti to collapse on the footpath. He died at the scene.

Ms Brown said public confidence in investigations into police shootings and deaths in custody could only be maintained by ensuring those investigations are independent.

“Police cannot effectively investigate themselves. Australia needs an independent body to investigate any death where there’s an allegation of police involvement, or where the death occurred in custody,” Ms Brown said.

Independent investigations already take place in Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Recently, in Queensland, the Queensland Misconduct Commission was been given primary responsibility for investigation of deaths in custody.

“Not only would having independent investigations be the common sense approach, but Australia is obliged under international law to do so,” Ms Brown said.

The HRLC, which was party to the Coronial inquest into the 2008 police shooting of Victorian teenager, Tyler Cassidy, has called for a new approach to police training and greater regulation and monitoring of use of force by police.

“This tragic incident once again highlights the need for caution in the use of Tasers. As well as being potentially lethal, Tasers are often misused in circumstances where no force or minimal force is appropriate.”

The State Coronor, Mary Jerram, will preside over the hearing and it is expected to conclude on 19 October.

In related news the NSW Ombudsman has released a report into the use of Taser weapons by the New South Wales Police that recommends significant changes to improve police policies, procedures, training and accountability in relation to Taser use.