SYDNEY (AFP) – Aboriginal teenagers were illegally tear gassed in an Australian juvenile jail, a court ruled yesterday amid renewed public condemnation over police abuse of indigenous citizens in custody.
Four former inmates of the Don Dale youth detention centre brought legal action against the Northern Territory government after being tear-gassed while locked in their cells in 2014. Prison officers used a CS fogger, classified as a prohibited weapon, in an enclosed space outside their cells to subdue another detainee who escaped, exposing the boys to tear gas.
In a unanimous decision handed down yesterday, Australia’s High Court ruled the use of tear gas was unlawful battery and the former detainees were entitled to compensation from the government.
Don Dale became infamous in 2016 when graphic footage showing conditions in the facility were broadcast, sparking public outrage and leading to a government inquiry. In a 2015 video, a 17-year-old boy was hooded, shackled to a restraint chair and left alone for two hours at the Darwin facility, with critics likening it to the United States (US) military prison Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. In 2017, the inquiry reported it found “systemic failures” in the youth detention system and recommended the closure of Don Dale, though the centre remains open.
Just five per cent of children aged 10 to 17 are indigenous, but official figures showed in 2018 they made up half of all youth detainees nationally – and 100 per cent in the Northern Territory.
The court’s decision came a day after video footage emerged of a Sydney police officer kicking an Aboriginal teenager’s legs out from underneath him, sending the boy face-first to the ground.