SYDNEY (AFP) — Aboriginal teenagers were illegally tear gassed in an Australian juvenile jail, a court ruled Wednesday amid renewed public condemnation over police abuse of indigenous citizens in custody.
Four former inmates of the Don Dale youth detention center 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, pepper-spray classified as a prohibited weapon, in an enclosed space outside their cells to subdue another detainee who had escaped, exposing the boys to tear gas. They were reportedly aged between 15 and 17 at the time.
In a unanimous decision handed down Wednesday, 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 one 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 US military prison Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
In 2017, the inquiry reported it had found “systemic failures” in the youth detention system and recommended the closure of Don Dale, though the center remains open.
Just 5% 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% 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.
The 16-year-old, who had allegedly first threatened the officer, was treated in hospital for his injuries and the officer has been placed on restricted duties while an investigation is carried out.
It also comes as indigenous rights groups plan weekend rallies in solidarity with Americans protesting the death in custody of unarmed black man George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Australians have been calling on their own government to do more to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody, with more than 420 cases recorded in three decades without any convictions.
© Agence France-Presse