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Family of Noongar man who died in police custody in Victoria seeks answers

Dechlan Brennan -

This article contains an image and information of a person who has died.

The family of 28-year-old Noongar man Jeffrey Winmar have held a vigil after his death in custody on November 11.

It comes as the family has called for more information and the release of the body-cam footage of the events leading up to his death.

Mr Winmar was described by his family as having an "infectious smile that lit up the room" as well as being a "beacon of positivity" during an emotional vigil at Dardi Munwurro in Preston on Friday.

The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) said Mr Winmar was "pursued by multiple police units in Reservoir" on November 9.

He was later arrested by police and passed away in hospital on the evening of Saturday 11 November.

In a statement, the Victorian Police said a man, understood to be Jeffrey Winmar, was wanted in relation to an ongoing investigation.

"As officers attempted to arrest the 28-year-old, he ran from the scene and was located a short time later in a backyard…" they said.

"While the man was being walked back to the front of the premises by police, he suffered a medical episode."

Victorian Police said paramedics were called and Mr Winmar was taken to hospital, where he passed away two days later.

In Victoria, all deaths in police custody are referred to the coroner's court.

Victorian Police said the homicide squad will prepare a report for the coroner - as is standard procedure - and the investigation will be overseen by the Professional Standards Command.

"The Coronial process gives the families a chance to seek transparency, to seek information about what happened to their loved one, and to try and force some measure of accountability," VALS chief executive and Yorta Yorta and Narrandjeri woman, Nerita Waight, told the ABC.

Principal managing lawyer of the Wirraway police accountability practice at the VALS, Sarah Schwartz, told the ABC the family had limited information around the circumstances leading up to Jeffrey's death.

"They want answers about the propriety of police conduct when they arrested Jeffrey, during Jeffrey's pursuit, and whether Jeffrey was provided with proper care when he was in police custody," she said.

VALS said the family had concerns about the operational behaviour of Victorian Police in the lead up to the death of Mr Winmar.

"Jeffrey's family have major concerns about the conduct of the police during the pursuit and his arrest. They are demanding immediate access to police body-worn camera footage and drone footage," VALS said in a statement.

"Jeffrey's family are waiting for answers about what happened to him while they are mourning and grieving their loss."

VALS noted that over 550 Indigenous people have now lost their lives in police custody since the 1991 Royal Commission into Indigenous Deaths in Custody.

At his vigil on Friday, Jeffrey was remembered by family as a man of Christian faith, who "got along with everyone."

His father, also called Jeffrey, said when his son moved to Melbourne from Perth, he took on the role of "big brother and protector" for his younger siblings who lived there.

"He has a 9-year-old child, also named Jeffrey who he loved very much, as well as his nephews and nieces. He spent a lot of time with them and always stood up for them, "he said.

Jeffrey was described as a very talented footballer and a devoted father to his 9-year-old son, also called Jeffrey.

Of his passing, the family said they'd been given differing accounts and they were trying to ascertain exactly what happened.

"There is a lot we don't know about the circumstances leading up to Jeffrey's passing. We have been told conflicting information and we are waiting for answers about what happened," Mr Winmar said.

"With the support of the Aboriginal community in Victoria, Western Australia and across the country, we will fight for justice for our Jeffrey."

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