Queensland police officers’ actions ‘could be considered corrupt’, Shiralee Tilberoo inquest hears | Deaths in custody

A Queensland police investigator found the actions of three officers “could be considered corrupt conduct” for failing to perform adequate checks on First Nations woman Shiralee Tilberoo before her death in a watch house, an inquest has heard.

The 49-year-old Birri Gubba woman – also known as Aunty Sherry – died of a brain aneurysm in the Brisbane watch house on 10 September 2020.

A joint inquest is examining Tilberoo’s death and that of Vlasta Wylucki, who died in the Southport watch house in 2018.

An investigator at Queensland police’s Ethical Standards Command, Det Sgt Christy Schmidt, recommended disciplinary action be taken against assistant watch house officers Debra Haigh and Michael Ecimovic, and police officer Sr Sgt Damien Hayden, the inquest heard on Monday.

In a report detailing her investigation, Schmidt said the officers’ failure to perform adequate cell inspections on 9 and 10 September had amounted to “human rights breaches” and “could be considered corrupt conduct”.

At the inquest’s final public hearing on Monday, Schmidt said CCTV footage showed Tilberoo moaning, dry retching and vomiting during her final moments in the watch house.

“I think the inadequate cell checks definitely are obvious,” Schmidt told the inquest. “And the lack of care when doing those cell inspections. There’s definitely room for improvement there.”

“Everyone in the police service has a supervisor … and if … you’re a leader and a manager you need to supervise your teams.”

The court heard while Haigh and Ecimovic conducted “inadequate” cell inspections, Hayden “failed” to perform any checks altogether.

Haigh was been suspended for six months, and then moved to another department for 10 months, after the death. Hayden, who was classified as the independent officer and obliged to undertake at least one cell check each shift, faced disciplinary action.

For seven of the 12 shifts that occurred during Tilberoo’s time in detention, no independent inspection was undertaken by the independent officer, the inquest heard.

At the inquest, Schmidt said Ecimovic only conducted two cell checks – the first was “inadequate” and on the second he discovered Tilberoo had died.

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Schmidt said officers working in watch houses needed to have more than “five minutes” of video training about how to conduct cell inspections.

“If that’s what is going to be your specialised day-to-day workplace, you need to have more than five minutes in terms of training and there needs to be auditing done,” she told the inquest.

“And you can have all the training in the world but you also need to have empathy and be committed to doing your job.”

Schmidt examined whether pulse monitors or mattress radars could help officers to monitor prisoners. She also recommended there be a 24-hour nurse in the watch house every day.

“It would assist not only the prisoners – who might not be comfortable telling the police officers [about their medical conditions] – but also watch house officers and police,” Schmidt told the inquest.

“I think it would be vital.”

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