Forging Justice for David Dungay: An Interview With Dunghutti Activist Paul Silva

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Paul Silva

The Justice for David Dungay Junior campaign held a press conference last Friday in the Domain-Djarrbarrgalli to announce that criminal barrister Phillip Boulten SC has issued a detailed advice outlining that there’s potential for charges to be laid in regard to David Dungay’s death in custody.

The prominent barrister is of the opinion that there’s enough evidence available to see manslaughter and/or assault charges laid against some of the guards involved in the incident that saw David Dungay killed.

Mr Boulten set out that there was no lawful excuse for the guards to have stormed the cell Mr Dungay was occupying and to have applied such force in restraining him.

The barrister further stated that there’s a reasonable chance that if charges are laid, convictions will follow.

The Dungay family’s announcement came just days after a Black Lives Matter rally they’d organised in the Domain was subjected to court intervention and then met by a massive police presence, with officers arresting six demonstrators.

I can't breathe Paul Silva

“I can’t breathe”

On 29 December 2015, a group of immediate action team officers stormed the cell where David Dungay Junior was being held in the hospital ward of Long Bay Gaol, because the diabetic refused to stop eating some biscuits.

The officers then dragged the 26-year-old Dunghutti man into another cell where five of them held him face down in the potentially lethal prone position on a bed. David called out that he couldn’t breathe on numerous occasions, but the guards didn’t let up.

Rather the officers had a nurse inject Dungay with a strong sedative and as they continued holding him down, he soon became lifeless.

The findings of the coronial inquest into David’s death were handed down last November. And despite the stark footage of his last moments being viewed in court, none of the twenty recommendations made by the NSW Coroner were in relation to holding the guards to account.

“The Coroner’s Court told us that the guards had no right to go into David’s cell and assault him,” said Leetona Dungay, David’s mother, in the Domain. And she added that if the Director of Public Prosecutions doesn’t act on the advice of Phillip Boulten, then her family will call for more protests.

A call for action

Following the police shut down of the BLM protest in the Domain last Tuesday, the Dungay family presented a petition to Greens MLC David Shoebridge at NSW parliament. With close to 100,000 signatures, the document called on the NSW DPP and SafeWork NSW to investigate the case.

David Dungay’s nephew Paul Silva was standing beside the rest of his family on the steps of parliament last week. Over the last five years, the young Dunghutti man has been at the forefront of the campaign demanding justice for his uncle.

Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Paul Silva about the police presence in the Domain, the growing community support for the campaign and how he asserts that NSW authorities are targeting the Black Lives Matter movement at present.

Paul Silva using speaker

Firstly, on 28 July, the Black Lives Matter rally in the Domain was met by a huge police presence, which outnumbered demonstrators. And as it was about to get underway, officers began arresting people.

Paul, what are your thoughts on what happened last Tuesday?

Upon arrival, NSW police were already shutting down our COVID safe store that we had set up there.

We then walked up and tried to have a conversation with the inspector in charge on the day to see what his intention was.

We wanted to know whether it would be okay for 20 people – that would be organisers and immediate family members of David Dungay – to gather on their own away from everyone.

But before we could ask, people were detained and issued with fines.

Last week’s rally was the third Black Lives Matter demonstration that the NSW Police Force has moved to shut down through the courts.

Do you think police are singling out the BLM movement in particular?

They definitely are. It’s double standards. There are massive commercial gatherings happening around Australia. NSW police and the NSW government are singling out these protests.

I believe it’s because someone in government is actually listening and change could happen. So, it’s appalling that the government and NSW police are singling us out.

They say they’re not anti-protests in the media, although it’s plain and simple that they are anti-protest.

There was a football game over the weekend, and a photo was posted on Facebook that showed a few thousand gathered in one group, and that would never be allowed to happen at a rally.

A lot of people have asked, why can’t these protests wait. How do you respond to that question?

My response to that is my family has been protesting for the past five years demanding justice for David Dungay Junior. But it hasn’t had much media coverage.

Now, is a perfect time to protest and demand systematic change to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody.

There’s a pandemic happening, but there’s been a pandemic happening for hundreds of years for First Nations people, which has been unrecognised.

Like I say, the protest that we held at the Domain on 28 July was actually COVID safe before NSW police shut down our COVID safe store. That shows the NSW police don’t care about the pandemic themselves.

Instead of letting the store open to attendees, they shut that store down. So, they’ll use the pandemic as an excuse to silence us but won’t take the pandemic seriously.

Later last Tuesday your family presented a petition to David Shoebridge at parliament. It contained close to 100,000 signatures.

What did you think about the support you managed to get behind the petition?

It was amazing. I thank everyone who helped and signed that petition. It just takes us one more step forward in getting Justice for David Dungay, getting closer so he can rest, and getting a big weight lifted off our family’s shoulders.

We call on SafeWork NSW to take back their second rejection and actually investigate the death of David Dungay Junior that took place in Long Bay Gaol on 29 December 2015, because it was a death that took place in a workplace.

It must have been strange to be shut down in the Domain by police earlier in the day, and then be on the steps of NSW Parliament later that same afternoon.

Well, we were shut down in the Domain. And we were shadowed by police from the Domain and throughout the city until we literally got back to our motels.

The police didn’t stop. Even at Parliament House, there was a police presence there.

And lastly, Paul, criminal defence barrister Phillip Boulten SC issued an advice outlining that he believes there’s enough evidence for manslaughter charges to be laid against some of the prison guards involved in the death of your uncle.

Your family has since referred his report on to the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions. What’s the next step from here?

We’ll be demanding the Director of Public Prosecutions take action and criminally charge all involved. And we’ll be pushing for SafeWork NSW to take back their second rejection.

We’re demanding criminal action to be taken against all those involved based on the report given by Mr Boulten.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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