Please note: This story contains reference to someone who has died.
In a history-making moment, the South Australian Parliament passed Fella’s Bill which will ban all institutional uses of spit hoods.
The Bill, passed in late September, is named after Wayne Fella Morrison who died in custody in 2016.
The 29-year-old Wiradjuri, Wirangu and Kokatha man died at Royal Adelaide Hospital.
While on remand at Yatala Labor Prison, Morrison was restrained in flexi-cuffs and a spit hood. He was placed in a prison van, face down, for internal transportation and accompanied by eight officers.
Mr Morrison was pulled from the van unresponsive and died three days later. There is no CCTV footage from inside the van.
Since his passing, Mr Morrison’s family have pushed for justice, a fight that saw Fella’s Bill legislated and a petition of almost 27,000 signatures of support.
“It’s amazing to know that Wayne’s name is now in the archives of SA Parliament,” Mr Morrison’s sibling Latoya Rule said.
“I have hope that once more those who have the power to change legislation and the outcomes for Aboriginal people’s lives will hear our calls and do so.”
Spit hoods are used nationally in institutional contexts including prisons and police custody, mental health facilities and immigration detention centres.
Used as a restraint device, spit hoods, when used alongside other restraint practices, can be fatal.
“When fastened, they can put pressure on vital parts of the neck. Spit hoods can also delay critical medical responses because they obscure faces, muffle voices, and make it hard to notice changes to someone’s face colour, their distress or pain,” Rule said.
Waanyi woman and executive officer of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services Jamie McConnachie stand in solidarity with the family in calling for a “ban spit hoods nationally”.
“Following Wayne’s death, his family have been staunch and dedicated advocates in pursuit of accountability for his death and against systemic racism and Black deaths in custody,” she said.
“Spit hoods are dangerous, humiliating, and archaic; and are involved in Black deaths in custody — including the senseless and devastating death of Wayne Fella Morrison in 2016.
“They violate international anti-torture laws when they are used to punish, intimidate, or coerce.”
The calls for a national ban are supported by human rights activist across the country, including Senator Lidia Thorpe who has also pushed for the abolition of spit hoods in Victoria.
In April, Mr Morrison’s family joined others to recognise the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
“It was also sad to comprehend that Wayne was born before the royal commission — in the years that people were advocating for it — not knowing that they would be advocating for him,” Rule said.
Despite calls for the Prime Minister to meet families, his door remained closed.
“At the highest level of Australian Parliament, they were unwilling to hear us . . . it felt empty in many ways,” Rule said.
The anniversary heightened calls for all the recommendations of the royal commission to be implemented.
According to the National Indigenous Australians Agency, the Federal Government has implemented 91 per cent of the recommendations for which it “had responsibility”.
“If the royal commission recommendations were adequately understood and implemented in their entirety, 500 Aboriginal people would still be alive today with their families, and those who have sadly passed from the grief of this process would also be here today with their families,” Rule said.
“What the lack of accountability to the royal commission has caused is unfathomable but is felt deeply by every Aboriginal community across Australia.”
Mr Morrison’s family has endured a traumatic coronial inquest process and are still waiting on justice.
“This has been the hardest thing I have ever had to live through to date,” Rule said.
“Some members of my family were unable to work, and still my Mum has had to quit her work and rest.
“It has destroyed our lives in a multitude of ways.”
“Sometimes I still consider that Wayne might come back, it’s a silly thing, but it does happen when I see someone on the street who looks like him from behind or something.
“It’s an eternal longing to lose someone, and a disruption to healing when there are no answers as to what happened but the brutality that it continues to be denied (adds) to the situation — exacerbating grief further.”
The family are pushing for a royal commission into Morrison’s passing death after prison officers present in the van when he became unconscious claimed penalty privilege at the inquest.
“A royal commission would (compel) the officers to give evidence, it would also show our family and community that these officers — the ones who are charged with the ‘care’ of thousands of people in prisons right across SA — have the humanity in them to speak to a grieving family,” Rule said.
The family are continuing their fight, a fight for justice and a fight to remember Mr Morrison.
“We hope people will continue to speak Wayne’s name — but do so remembering him for who he was — a deeply loved son, brother, father to my young niece, artist, fisherman and a person deserving of justice and life.”
The National Indigenous Times contacted both the NIAA and the Office of the Attorney-General for comment, however, did not receive a response before time of publication.
By Rachael Knowles