Deathscapes

Dispatch Sydney

Deathscapes

A series of daily dispatches from the coronial inquest currently underway in Sydney for Mr David Dungay, Dunghutti Warrior.

Text by Joseph Pugliese
Photos by Joseph Pugliese unless otherwise noted

‘In Sydney, his name is David Dungay. In New York City, his name is Eric Garner.’
Hawk Newsome, Black Lives Matter

 

‘From day one of the inquest, the extended Dungay family has been in attendance in court with their children. There is one baby and a number of children and teenagers. They sit together or with family members. When the traumatic video of the death of Mr Dungay is shown (it has been shown every day of the inquiry thus far and it never gets easier to watch), different family members and supporters take the children out of the courtroom. They can be seen playing either in the foyer or downstairs on the large covered verandah of the Downing Court Centre. As the witness testimonies unfold, I reflect on the strong kinship bonds that bind the extended Dungay family and the care and love they show each other in this painful setting. I’m also compelled to dwell on the strength and maturity of these children. They are here in this court cutting their teeth on the infrastructural racist violence of the settler state and on its fatal and ongoing effects on Australia’s Indigenous people.’


Dispatches:
Inquest into the Death of David Dungay, Dunghutti Warrior
Sydney Downing Centre Court, Courtroom 5.2

Dungay family, supporters and activists outside the Downing Centre Court.


Postscript:  August 14 2018

 

Hear Joseph Pugliese’s powerful unfolding of  the death of David Dungay in this interview with the Doin’ Time show.


Day 10: 27 July 2018

The inquest continued today with the questioning of one of the Justice Health nurses who was in attendance on the day of Mr Dungay’s death in custody. The Dungay family was still coming to terms with the shock announcement yesterday that the inquest would not be brought to a formal closure as it had exhausted its allotted schedule in terms of the court timetable. When the court broke for lunch, the family and supporters staged an impromptu rally. They streamed out of the court complex shouting ‘Justice today for David Dungay’ in a show of defiance.

Leetona Dungay outside the Downing Court Centre.

Leetona Dungay, David’s mother, held a media conference in which she articulated her thoughts, emotions and wishes in the wake of this suspended coronial inquest into the death of her son, David Joseph Dungay. She read from the following prepared statement:

Leetona Dungay then addressed the media:

I’m incredibly upset and stressed, with my family here with me, about the lengthy delay that’s taken to get us here today. I hoped and prayed for closure from this inquest, but now we have to wait another year in our fight for justice – to again hear from all those responsible that they don’t ‘recall’ what happened to my son.

As a mother, I will tell youse all in my words of a slow wait of my son’s written death put into a document that is no good for a parent … and that this never ever happens to any parent again.

In the loss of our son, it [the inquest] did open up wounds again and which is going to open up some more wounds in another year’s time.

And I thought it would have been at the end at this coroner’s court today. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be. It’s going to be another year to wait for answers and who’s going to be accountable for the death of my son.

Linda Kennedy and Lizzy Jarret outside the Downing Court Centre.

Lizzy Jarret also spoke to the media. She said:

Please, that’s what I’ll say today. I’ll find humility in my pain, and all I ask is please stop killing us.

When the inquest resumed after the lunch break, the questioning of the Justice Health nurse continued. On the completion of her questioning, procedural matters were addressed. The Coroner then announced that, instead of the inquest resuming in June 2019, he had identified the possible earlier date of 4 March 2019. All parties agreed to resuming the inquest on this new date and the inquest was closed until next year.

After taking my leave of the Dungay family, supporters and friends, I left the court complex feeling the emotional impact of the family’s pain – they had not received vital closure. As Leetona Dungay underscored in her media conference, the inquest has opened up wounds over the loss of her son. And the resumption of the inquest next year would again refresh those wounds. By then, three and a half years will have lapsed since the brutal death of her son in a cell – three and a half years to wait for the possibility of justice.

Justice for David Dungay banner draped over the stairs leading to the Downing Court Centre.

As I walked out of the Downing Court Centre building, I stopped to look back as the Dungay family and friends slowly dispersed. For the last two weeks, draped over the stairs leading to the complex has been the banner ‘Justice for David Dungay.’ The banner compelled those entering and exiting the court complex to be confronted by this imperative. Spray-painted on a piece of canvas, it was a piece of activism that spoke to the power of street justice. As a charged artefact of street justice, it stood as a challenge to the formal judicial justice that was supposed to be realised within the court complex.

Downing Court Centre.

Looking up at this imposing emporium of settler law, I reflected that there was an unsettling logic to the fact that the settler state has housed its court complex within what used to be a department store: the old Mark Foy’s emporium, a term born in the crucible of empire. The building’s shopping quarters, café and ballroom have been retrofitted to house the settler state’s law courts and offices. In rooms that had once been sites of shopping and entertainment, criminal trials and coronial inquests now unfold. The harrowing video footage of Mr Dungay’s death had been shown in one such room. The screening of that necropolitical video has now graphically overwritten the histories of pleasure and entertainment that had previously transpired in that same room. It has also reanimated those other buried histories of settler genocide and violence that enabled the very building of the emporium on expropriated Indigenous land.

‘Mourning,’ façade of Downing Court Centre-Mark Foy’s Emporium.

Walking past the building on my way home, I read the commodities – gloves, linen, laces and so on – that the old emporium once sold; they were inscribed along the façade of the building. Traced in black mosaic tiles on gold, one item caught my attention: mourning. This emporium traded in death, loss and mourning.

I remember reading in a historical article that, in 1936, when King George V died, many Sydney department stores, including Mark Foy’s, decorated their shop windows with elaborate black-themed emblems of mourning and that shop assistants wore black ties and black armbands to pay their respects to the deceased king.

No such civic displays for the violent death in custody of a young Aboriginal man. I hang on to that one word traced in black and gold – mourning.

For David Joseph Dungay, Dunghutti Warrior, 2.10.1989 – 29.12.2015

Day 9: Thursday, 26 July 2018

Leetona Dungay outside the Downing Court Centre.

Today began with the questioning by Jason Downing, Counsel Assisting the Coroner, of the Justice Health nurse who injected Mr Dungay with the sedative Midazolam as he was held down by Immediate Action Team (IAT) officers in Cell 77 after he had been forcefully removed from Cell 71. It concluded with uproar in the court when the Coroner, Magistrate Derek Lee, announced that, as the inquest had exhausted its allotted two-week schedule, it would have to resume its questioning of witnesses in June 2019.

This news sent shock waves throughout the Dungay family. The family has endured the harrowing ordeal of seeing CCTV and hand-held footage of the last few minutes of Mr Dungay’s life played over and over for forensic purposes. It has listened to testimony documenting in minute detail the various physiological processes that contributed to his death. All of the testimony and expert witness statements have been invariably underscored by the evidentiary burden of Mr Dungay’s desperate and repeated cries of ‘I can’t breathe.’ They have already waited two and a half years for this inquest, only to be told today that their hope for justice is to be delayed by another year.

The outrage felt by the Dungay family is summed up by Paul Silva, a nephew, who exclaimed to the Coroner on hearing the news: ‘In a year another black person will be dead.’ Never has the legal maxim, justice delayed is justice denied, carried such saliency in the context of a coronial inquest.

As I’ve sat listening, in the course of the inquest, to an ever-growing catalogue of instances of malpractice, breaches of duty of care, negligence, and gratuitous cruelty and violence that, cumulatively, contributed to the death of Mr Dungay, I have seen materialise in my mind’s eye the various recommendations that will no doubt issue at the end of the judicial process. The delay in the conclusion of the inquest, and the consequent handing down of the coronial findings, means these urgently needed recommendations will be put on hold for yet another year. This ensures that the practical measures needed to stop yet another Indigenous death in custody along the lines of Mr Dungay’s will be placed on extended hold.

Justice delayed is justice denied precisely there will be no timely redress delivered to the Dungay family for the death in custody of Mr Dungay. The trauma they have lived with since the loss of Mr Dungay, and which has since been compounded by their exposure in court on a daily basis to his final death throes, is something they will need to carry, without judicial resolution, for another year – only to be further revivified and made raw again with their eventual attendance in court in June 2019. For any family that has lost a loved one, this can only be seen as a cruel cycle of psychological torture.

I wrote yesterday of the words repeatedly called by Mr Downing, Counsel Assisting the Coroner, as he requested his legal assistant to mark the time signature of the place where he had asked the video documenting the last minutes of Mr Dungay’s life to be freeze-framed in the course of his questioning. Repeatedly he called, ‘Time please.’ This phrase, in the context of today’s announcement of the extended delay to the conclusion of the inquest, now takes on a perverse meaning that simply adds insult to injury to the Dungay family: they have effectively been told that, as the court needs more time please, they will have to live with the lack of a timely judicial resolution of their trauma.

Finally, the racialised dimensions of this phrase have today fully come to the fore: Black lives do not matter – time please, as we leave the settler system of racialised punishment that was responsible for the death of David Joseph Dungay in the operational mode of as business-as-usual until at least June 2019.

Day 8: Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Linda Kennedy calling for justice for David Dungay.

Today began with Counsel Assisting the Coroner, Jason Downing, questioning Dr Spasojevic of Justice Health, Long Bay Hospital, who was involved with the management of Mr Dungay’s diabetes. Dr Spasojevic confirmed that Mr Dungay’s blood-sugar levels on the day of his death were asymptomatic and, when questioned as to whether she thought that his eating of rice crackers might constitute a ‘medical emergency,’ she stated that his eating of the crackers was ‘not a medical emergency.’

Dr Spasojevic’s medical assessment of the situation thus contradicted the corrective officers’ evidence given earlier last week, when they asserted that they had summoned the Immediate Action Team to remove Mr Dungay from Cell 71 and to place him in a video observation cell because his eating of the crackers constituted a ‘medical emergency.’ With regard to Mr Dungay’s eating of the crackers and the possibility that it would raise his blood-sugar levels, Dr Spasojevic replied that she would have merely recommended a subcutaneous injection of extra insulin, which could have been self-administered by Mr Dungay. This medical view was subsequently supported by Dr Cromer, an endocrinologist, who stated when questioned that ‘removing the biscuits would not be a medical emergency’ given his certified blood-sugar levels on the day.

When David Evenden, Counsel for the Dungay Family, questioned Dr Spasojevic, he put on record the family’s concern that Mr Dungay was eating the biscuits because he had often complained to them ‘that he was not getting enough food.’

The Counsel Assisting the Coroner subsequently questioned Professor Brown, Emergency Physician, Royal Brisbane Hospital. Professor Brown gave expert evidence on the issue of Mr Dungay’s death due to positional asphyxia. Professor Brown outlined how the prone position and restraint under which Mr Dungay was placed ‘were likely contributors’ to his death, together with other co-factors, including agitation and his struggle with the correctional officers. By being held in the prone position, Professor Brown concluded that Mr Dungay would have experienced an inability to take deep breaths and an inability to expand his chest, which caused the congestion of blood to his head and which, in turn, resulted in his cardiac arrest.

Significantly, Professor Brown stated that ‘a person suffering from positional asphyxia can still talk and cry out, even as they are running out of oxygen in their blood stream.’ This medical view undermined the prior evidence given by a number of the Immediate Action Team that, in their view, because Mr Dungay could talk – that is, through his repeated and ever more desperate cries of ‘I can’t breathe’ – then he could breathe. One can hear the IAT officers in the forensic video emphatically say to Mr Dungay, ‘If you can talk, you can breathe.’

In the course of Professor Brown’s questioning, the CCTV and hand-held camera footage of Mr Dungay’s forced removal from his cell was again shown to the courtroom. Today, the focus was on the scene of Mr Dungay’s complete collapse after he had been placed in Cell 77. The questioning focused on the level of life support given to Mr Dungay by Justice Health staff and the attending corrective officers. The scene of medical assistance given to Mr Dungay appeared to be a panicked shambles, as it included a gaping eight-minute hiatus between the administering of cardiac massage and CPR to a patient who had just suffered cardiac arrest. Professor Brown pointed to the critical absence of a team leader to direct the life support procedures.

Moreover, the medical team ‘then forgot to remove the cap from resuscitation equipment.’ The footage showed the cap falling out of Mr Dungay’s mouth. It also showed Mr Dungay being incorrectly placed three times in the recovery position when, according to Professor Brown, he should have been kept on his back while constant cardiac massage and CPR were administered. ‘You don’t put someone in the recovery position in the middle of a cardiac arrest, it’s just not helpful, Brown said. ‘You shouldn’t ever have to return to the recovery position if you haven’t recovered.’

Professor Brown remarked, after reviewing the video, that ‘Mr Dungay would have survived with adequate life support.’

The video showing Mr Dungay’s collapse in Cell 77 was impossible to watch as, armed with knowledge after the fact, I was in the position of knowing that I was witnessing the death of this young man.

Again, in order to fulfil the requirements of forensic analysis, Mr Downing inevitably freeze-framed the relevant scenes of the video for the witnesses’ consideration. Prior to Mr Dungay’s collapse, this freeze-framing entailed the momentary transfixing of his life in a sort of premonition of the death that was to come. With the video screen now showing the scene after Mr Dungay’s collapse, the freeze-framing of his life assumed the dimensions of a double death.

At every relevant stopping of the video, Mr Downing would call to his legal assistant ‘Time please,’ so that a time signature was recorded of the scene in question. In the course of this process, this purely procedural call for temporal notation assumed a range of significations that, for me, overwrote the phrase’s forensic burden.

Long after leaving the courtroom, the call, ‘Time please,’ continued to resonate for me – not as a call for temporal notation, but rather in terms of a plea; more precisely, in terms of a burning appeal to be able to stage a temporal reversal, to be given the time to undo a fatal scene of violence:

Time please, to stop the assault inflicted upon Mr Dungay’s body.

Time please, to heed his desperate cries to be able to breathe.

Time please, to offer him the adequate life support that would have ensured that he would continue to live.

Time please, so that he could once more be able to enjoy the loving embrace of his family.

Time please.

Day 7: Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Artwork by Simone Pash

This last week has seen the correctional and clinical history of Mr Dungay unfold in the course of the inquest into his death. All the material presented in court has been processed through the judicial grid of ‘forensic’ and ‘admissible evidence.’ What would one make of this deceased young man, David Joseph Dungay, if this were all that one could ever know of him? How can this legal and clinical, and thus objectifying, frame ever do justice to the complex life of a young man briefly caught in the forensic prism of a coronial inquest – precisely when, by the very definition of the genre of the coronial inquest, the person is deceased?

Mr Dungay can never appear in flesh and blood in this judicial space where all the witnesses speak of or on behalf of him. He can never intervene to set right all of the possible misrepresentations and skewed accounts of his brutally terminated life that transpire in this court of law.

All of this causes me to reflect and to conclude that, within the necrological space of the coronial inquest, the deceased can never be the sum of the forensic and clinical evidence that will be bound and archived at the close of the proceedings. And that everything about Mr Dungay that both exceeds and escapes this coronial frame can only ever be truly known, in all of its richness and complexity, by his family and his friends.

In a short video statement, Lizzy Jarrett, Gumbaynggirr Dunghutti Bundjalung, speaks of David Joseph Dungay in terms that will never be articulated in the very court of law that is so preoccupied with both his life and death. She speaks of all the vital dimensions that constituted his short life.

Video supplied by Lizzy Jarret, ISJA

Day 6: Monday, 23 July 2018

 

‘We still don’t know the words and documents that could write the death of my son, and the truth in those documents. I hope the truth of every injury on his body and what caused his death will be revealed in those documents and all of the testimonies.’

Leetona Dungay

Leetona Dungay and Dylan Voller (Photo by Lizzy Jarrett).

‘Two warriors affected by incarceration in this country with different outcomes,’ says Leetona Dungay, David Dungay Jnr’s mother. For the Dungay family, ‘it is a comfort and a victory that Dylan Voller has survived because he is a very strong warrior.’ She believes her son ‘did not survive because he was in the hands of Corrective Services who failed in their duty of care.’

Today Senior Officer Bagley presented evidence that, according to Mr Dungay’s medical records, he suffered from psychosis (due to schizophrenia), diabetes and asthma. Mr Dungay’s clinical history was, after the fact, laid out in court. I say after the fact because, in the course of today’s proceedings, it was revealed that his medical condition, including psychosis and unstable blood-sugar levels, ‘caused him to have outbursts and agitations.’ Yet it was also put on record today that Mr Dungay was punished for behavioural issues during his time in custody, including being placed in 7-day cells, that is, being confined to his cell for a week. Mr Dungay was, in other words, punished for behavioural issues that were caused by his underlying medical conditions. This constitutes only one instance of the travesty of fair treatment that characterises Mr Dungay’s traumatic and fatal period of imprisonment in the racialised carceral system of the state.

In the course of his many years in a number of NSW goals (including, Junee, Lithgow and Silverwater), Mr Dungay’s mental health began to deteriorate so that by 2013 he was deemed to be a ‘correctional patient’ and transferred to Ward G, Long Bay Hospital.

On the day of his death, when the Immediate Action Team was called in forcefully to remove Mr Dungay from his cell (ostensibly because of concerns about his blood-sugar levels), rather that remove the packet of biscuits he was eating, none of his clinical history was taken to account. In fact, it was revealed today that the Immediate Action Team had a blanket policy of how to deal with inmates across all the different units of the goal: their policy, in terms of their standard operating procedures, was not to differentiate between the mentally well inmates housed in other units of Long Bay Goal and the mentally ill inmate-patients in the psychiatric ward of Long Bay Hospital.

In other words, there appears to be no policy in place in either Long Bay Goal or Long Bay Hospital that requires correctional officers to be briefed about any medical conditions, such as mental illness, that might significantly affect the behaviour of an inmate or patient. There is thus a failure to take into account an inmate’s or patient’s disability when assessing their behaviour or when correctional officers, such as the IAT, move in forcefully to extract them from their cell. Mental disability in, of all places, the psychiatric ward of Long Bay Hospital, fails to figure in such instances. Regardless of the psychotic stress and agitation that Mr Dungay was experiencing, he was treated by the IAT officers as simply another inmate devoid of any medical conditions that were actually impacting both on his mental state and that could, in turn, contribute to his possible collapse, if not death, when placed for an extended period in a prone position. One officer, Officer A, appeared to acknowledge this fact when he ‘said not knowing about the medical factors and complications with an inmate meant he was not properly equipped to do his job, and it was a failing in the system.’

On the day of his death, the Immediate Action Team deployed, in the process of ‘extracting’ Mr Dungay from his cell, sustained force on his shoulders and lower back while he was in a prone position. Even when he was lifted up by the IAT officers and escorted from Cell 71 to Cell 77, Mr Dungay’s head was bowed forward to prevent him from spitting blood, thereby enhancing his risk of succumbing to positional asphyxia.

On the day of his forced removal from his cell, the Immediate Action Team were not briefed, prior to their forced extraction, to take into regard the fact that his psychosis, diabetes, asthma and excess weight all put him at risk of positional asphyxia and that thus his repeated cries of ‘I can’t breathe’ were not ‘diversionary tactics’ but the desperate pleas of a man who was literally suffocating. It was revealed today that five out of the six IAT officers who forcefully removed Mr Dungay from his cell had never attended training in positional asphyxia and that it was not mandatory for IAT officers, including those who actually work in the mental health unit of Ward G, to have any training in mental health.

David Evenden, Counsel for the Dungay family, suggested to Senior Officer Bagley that the Immediate Action Team ‘did not exhaust all their use of options for negotiation or persuasion before using force – other than the [issuing of a] Proclamation, they did not deploy any de-escalation techniques on the day.’ Significantly, a de-escalation option that was available to them was the calling of an Aboriginal Liaison Officer trained in culturally appropriate ways of negotiating with an Indigenous inmate or patient. No such officer was ever called. The IAT officers, in fact, framed their issuing of two Proclamations as, in effect, their use of de-escalation techniques. The first Proclamation issued by the Immediate Action Team consisted of the officers declaring to Mr Dungay that he needed to place his hands through the slat of his cell door in order to be handcuffed. They gave Mr Dungay 30 seconds to a minute to comply. The second Proclamation consisted of exactly the same order – with exactly the same time frame given for Mr Dungay to comply.

As the father of a son who suffers from chronic psychosis, I can only reflect on the cruel absurdity of issuing such a Proclamation to a patient in a mentally agitated state. Operative, however, in Mr Dungay’s fatal situation was yet another more fraught dimension inscribed by the colonial history of the Australian settler state.

I can think of no more inflammatory term than ‘proclamation’ to issue to an Indigenous prisoner of the Crown. ‘Proclamation’ is a term which comes freighted with a history of settler-colonial violence – beginning with Governor Arthur Phillip’s proclamation of the foundation of the British colony at Farm Cove, Port Jackson, on the 26 January 1788, and culminating in Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s public proclamation of war against Aboriginal people on 4 May 1816, which led, amongst other violent outcomes, to the Appin Massacre. Macquarie’s proclamation was underpinned by the following orders:

I have directed as many Natives as possible to be made Prisoners, with the view of keeping them as Hostages until the real guilty ones have surrendered themselves, or have been given up by their Tribes to summary Justice. — In the event of the Natives making the smallest show of resistance – or refusing to surrender when called upon so to do – the officers Commanding the Military Parties have been authorized to fire on them to compel them to surrender; hanging up on Trees the Bodies of such Natives as may be killed on such occasions, in order to strike the greater terror into the Survivors.

Situated in this bloody historical context, the inflammatory and culturally insensitive term ‘proclamation’ should immediately be scrapped from the lexicon of correctional officers in any of their dealings with Indigenous prisoners. This move, however, will have little effect unless the system of racialised punishment that underpins the carceral system of the settler state is abolished.

Day 5: Friday, 20 July 2018

Today in court they once again showed the harrowing video that documents the last minutes of Mr Dungay’s life. It has been exhibited every day this week. The video captures the overwhelming forces visited upon Mr Dungay’s body by the Immediate Action Team (IAT) during the process of his removal from Cell 71 and his relocation to Cell 77, where he died.

The video is an invaluable piece of forensic evidence. It constitutes the corpus delicti or body of evidence of the crime scene. The repeated screenings of the video are an essential part of the process of interrogating each IAT officer in the context of the video evidence that tracks their actions on the day. Yet the video also exceeds the parameters of forensic exhibit. Each screening of the video in the courtroom generates a range of unsettling significations. These different significations insert it within an historical archive that is larger than either the discipline of law or the space of the courtroom.

In the process of exhibiting the video in court, the lawyers repeatedly freeze-frame relevant images that need to be analysed and discussed. This methodical stop-start process effectively works repeatedly to section off Mr Dungay’s body and life. His already brutalised body, evidenced by the blood on the cell floor, is further violated by this practice of symbolic violence. Each stilled frame momentarily suspends Mr Dungay’s repeated cries of ‘I can’t breathe,’ only to revivify his trauma once the video is again set in motion. This stop-start-stop process reproduces a staggered vision of torture that, each time, culminates in that fatal moment of collapse and the complete cessation of Mr Dungay’s breathing. Leetona Dungay, David’s mother, speaks to this unbearable fact: ‘It’s a terrible way to get justice that you’ve got to watch the way that your son’s gonna die at the end.’

Leetona Dungay outside Downing Court Centre.

In this court of law, the corpus delicti of this video also ensures that Mr Dungay’s filmed body becomes the property of the Crown. Between the two screens upon which the video is projected, on the facing wall of the courtroom directly above the Coroner, is affixed the royal coat of arms of Britain. All the power of the Australian settler state flows from this sovereign icon. All the power of Australian settler law is vested in this symbol: it is what makes it sovereign. Yet it is the very legitimacy of this settler sovereignty that is unsettled and interrogated by the very presence of the Dungay family in this court of settler law. As a people who have never ceded their Indigenous sovereignty, they are calling the settler state and its murderous carceral system to account. Leetona Dungay says: ‘Of these people that were there on the day of my son’s death … I would like them to be accountable … I will do anything for justice.’

David Dungay rally outside Correctional Services NSW (Photo by Rachel Evans).

Following the end of court proceedings today, members of the Dungay family, their supporters and activists rallied outside the headquarters of Corrective Services NSW, Haymarket, protesting at the ongoing Indigenous deaths in custody. Speakers at the rally included: Lizzy Jarret, Gumbaynggirr Dunghutti Bundjalung; Uncle Ken Canning, Chairperson of the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA); Paddy Gibson, Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research and Raul Bassi, member of ISJA.

Lizzy Jarrett, Raul Bassi and Dylan Voller, David Dungay rally outside Correctional Services NSW (Photo by Rachel Evans).

David Dungay rally outside Correctional Services NSW (Photo by Rachel Evans).

Lizzy Jarrett and Raul Bassi at the David Dungay rally outside Correctional Services NSW (Photo by Rachel Evans).

Day 4: Thursday, 19 July 2018

From day one of the inquest, the extended Dungay family has been in attendance in court with their children. There is one baby and a number of children and teenagers. They sit together or with family members. When the traumatic video of the death of Mr Dungay is shown – it has been shown every day of the inquiry thus far and it never gets easier to watch – different family members and supporters take the children out of the courtroom. They can be seen playing either in the foyer or downstairs on the large covered verandah of the Downing Court Centre. As the witness testimonies unfold, I reflect on the strong kinship bonds that bind the extended Dungay family and the care and love they show each other in this painful setting. I’m also compelled to dwell on the strength and maturity of these children. They are here in this court cutting their teeth on the infrastructural racist violence of the settler state and on its fatal and ongoing effects on Australia’s Indigenous people. They are here learning of the dangers they risk facing as they grow into adults. They are here, in a court of law, absorbing and building up their store of resilience and love in order to survive, defy and flourish despite the transgenerational trauma they experience in their everyday lives. How can one shield an Indigenous child from trauma when it is actually one of the pervasive system-effects of the settler state? Unintentionally, and well beyond its strictly judicial brief, this court of law of the settler state offers them yet another object lesson for their future.

Day 3: Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Dylan Voller has joined the Dungay family at the inquest in order to offer them his support. Dylan Voller is a victim of torture and the system of cruel, degrading and inhumane punishment at the Don Dale Detention Centre, Northern Territory, where he endured, as a child, being stripped naked, tear gassed and thrown into his cell. He is now most remembered for the shocking image of a figure shackled to a restraint chair, his head encased in a spit hood. Voller comments on the inquest:

It’s similar to sitting in the Royal Commission [into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory] – you hear lies continuously, the lies don’t stop to cover their arses. I’m here to support my brother David. In our culture, he is my brother even though I haven’t met him. And I have huge respect for the strength of the family and for the strength they are showing.

[Comment by Dylan Voller offered to Deathscapes for publication, 18 July 2018]

Lizzy Jarrett, Auntie Deborah Campell, Leetona Dungay, Cynthia Dungay, Lisa Deluca, Simone Pash outside Downing Centre Court.

Day 2: Tuesday, 17 July 2018

In his evidence, one of the officers says that Mr Dungay was ‘trying to trick the officers’ through his repeated cries of ‘I can’t breathe.’ At this, members of the Dungay family rupture the ritualised white decorum of the court with a burst of heartfelt expletives. The expletives work to expose and mark what the family perceive to be the lies of the settler state’s carceral operatives. Each perceived lie is punctuated with the eruption of expletives. Throughout the course of the inquiry, these disruptive expletives become one way to mark the family’s unmediated agency: raw, angry and impassioned, they bespeak long histories of Indigenous refusal and speaking back to a racialised criminal justice system that rarely delivers justice to those who have died in custody or to their families.

Dylan Voller, Rachel Evans, Lizzy Jarrett, Lisa Deluca, Simone Pash, Linda Kennedy, Maria Clague demonstrating their support for the Dungay family outside Downing Centre Court.

Day 1: Monday, 16 July 2018

It is the morning of the commencement of the coronial inquest into the death of David Dungay Jnr, Dunghutti Warrior. Outside the Sydney Downing Centre Court, the Dungay family, supporters and activists have gathered. They are holding banners that cite Mr Dungay’s last words: ‘I can’t breathe.’ Impassioned speeches are made protesting the death in custody of 26-year-old Mr Dungay. Soon after the inquest begins, Jason Downing, Counsel assisting the coroner, states that Mr Dungay ‘had been diagnosed to be acutely psychotic with auditory hallucinations and his mental health had deteriorated significantly while he was in custody.’ Mr Dungay was also diagnosed with diabetes and asthma. He was held in G Ward, the psychiatric wing of Long Bay Gaol. As the numerous testimonies now reported in the media evidence, the duty of care that should have been extended to someone suffering from multiple serious illnesses was never forthcoming – on the contrary.

On 29 December 2015, an Immediate Action Team (IAT), a specialist riot response unit, was called to transfer Mr Dungay from Cell 71 to Cell 77, which was equipped with video cameras. The catalyst for this transfer was Mr Dungay’s refusal to stop eating a packet of biscuits because of officers’ concerns over his blood sugar levels due to his diabetes. Rather than remove the packet of biscuits, the officers of the IAT proceeded forcefully to extract Mr Dungay. The video footage of the extraction and removal of Mr Dungay to Cell 77 was shown in court today. It is a harrowing video to watch. Five officers can be seen restraining him, first on the bed of his cell and then on the floor. Mr Dungay, under the weight of the officers and their restraining procedures, begins what will be his repeated and ever more urgent scream: ‘I can’t breathe.’

As he is removed from the cell and dragged across the corridor, he can be seen to collapse, even as he’s gasping ‘I can’t breathe.’ By the time he is placed in Cell 77, Mr Dungay begins desperately to cry ‘I can’t breathe.’ Soon after being injected with a sedative while he is held down, Mr Dungay becomes unresponsive. Despite attempts to resuscitate him, he dies from positional asphyxia, literally suffocating to death in the course of his violent removal.

Poster, ‘I can’t breathe,’ outside Downing Centre Court.

Before the commencement of court proceedings, Hawk Newsome, a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement, joined the Dungay family at the rally outside the Downing Court Centre in a powerful show of support and solidarity. He underscored the transnational racial violence that continues to kill Black people in both Australia and the USA: ‘It’s the same story, different soil. It’s the same thing from Long Bay to the USA. In Sydney, his name is David Dungay. In New York City, his name is Eric Garner. Eric Garner called for his life 11 times. David Dungay called for his life 12 times. These eerie similarities cannot go ignored.’

Hawk Newsome, a leader of Black Lives Matter, at the David Dungay rally outside the Downing Court Centre.


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