An Australian woman whose 15-year-old son was shot five times by police who were cleared of wrongdoing took her case to the United Nations Thursday, saying they “didn’t even ask him his name”.
Tyler Cassidy was armed with knives, intoxicated and in a distressed state when he confronted four police officers in a deserted Melbourne skate park in December 2008 and was shot dead in little more than a minute.
The police, who between them emptied two cans of capsicum spray and fired 10 bullets at the teen, were cleared of blame in 2011 by a coroner who ruled that they acted within the limits of their training.
But Tyler’s mother, Shani Cassidy, has taken the case to the United Nations Human Rights Committee alleging Australia breached its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Cassidy said the coroner had relied on the findings of an internal police review of the officers’ conduct, and argued that the failure to hold an independent investigation was a breach of international law.
“My son died just 73 seconds after police officers first approached him,” she said in a statement.
“They sprayed him with two canisters of OC (pepper) foam. They then fired 10 bullets at him, five of which hit him and ultimately killed him. They didn’t even ask him his name.
“I do not believe that Australia is fulfilling its obligation to protect and uphold the right to life when it doesn’t have independent investigations for police use of force resulting in death, as required by international law.”
Anna Brown, from Melbourne’s Human Rights Law Centre which is conducting the case, said she hoped that a ruling from the UN body would prompt more independent models of investigation in Australia into police shootings.
“It’s important that families of victims and the general public have confidence in the impartiality and credibility of investigations into police-related deaths and violence,” Brown said.
“The good news is, there are practical steps governments can take to ensure this happens.”
Victoria state police said they were aware of Cassidy’s complaint regarding her son’s “deeply tragic” death and if the UN chose to investigate “we will of course cooperate and provide all appropriate assistance”.
The UN complaint alleges that the officers who shot Cassidy were not treated as suspects, nor were their interviews about the incident recorded — a departure from standard police practice.
They only agreed to give evidence at the coroner’s inquest in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
Police said the internal probe of Tyler’s death was carried out by the homicide squad, supervised by the force’s ethical standards department, and reviewed by the office of police integrity.
“The death and investigation was the subject of an open and transparent coronial inquest,” it added.
A spokeswoman for Australia’s Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the government had yet to receive formal notification of the case from the UN.
“Australia takes its human rights obligations seriously and will make detailed submissions in response to this case, once relevant documents are received,” she told AFP.