Handprints are cleaned off police headquarters after activists protested the death in custody of an Indigenous woman. Picture: Sarah Marshall/NCA NewsWire
Handprints are cleaned off police headquarters after activists protested the death in custody of an Indigenous woman. Picture: Sarah Marshall/NCA NewsWire

Wash-house: Prisoners unchecked as officers do dirty work

Watch-house staff have been directed to wash and fold prisoners' dirty laundry, taking them away from supervising alleged criminals locked up in the cells for hours at a time.

Queensland Police Service confirmed the laundry contract for the Brisbane City Watch-house was suspended during the coronavirus pandemic to reduce the number of people entering the premises.

"The watch-house has been able to continue laundering sheets, bedding and clothing using existing resources," a spokesman for the QPS said.

It comes after 49-year-old Indigenous woman Sherry Fisher-Tilberoo died from natural causes while in custody at the same watch-house earlier this month.
The circumstances around her death are currently under investigation.

Activists protest an Indigenous death in custody at Brisbane watch-house. Picture: Richard Walker
Activists protest an Indigenous death in custody at Brisbane watch-house. Picture: Richard Walker

Police sources have told The Courier-Mail staff members directed to wash and dry laundry could be off the floor doing the task for several hours on a single shift.

"It is without a doubt a safety issue because there are already not enough staff keeping an eye on people but this means there is one less officer watching prisoners," the source said.

It is understood all staff have been directed to assist with laundry - whether they are sworn police officers or watch-house officers.

Activists protest an Indigenous death in custody at Brisbane watch-house. Picture: Richard Walker
Activists protest an Indigenous death in custody at Brisbane watch-house. Picture: Richard Walker

They are being given disposable aprons to stop the transfer of germs between clothing and their uniforms, The Courier-Mail understands.

Ms Tilberoo, also known as Aunty Sherry, was found dead in her cell having suffered a brain aneurysm - during the 6am check at the Brisbane City Watch-house on September 10.

She had been in custody for four days awaiting transfer to a prison.

Her death sparked a demonstration outside police HQ one day later, where Black Lives Matter protesters labelled the QPS "racist".

Handprints are cleaned off police headquarters after activists protested the death in custody of an Indigenous woman. Picture: Sarah Marshall/NCA NewsWire
Handprints are cleaned off police headquarters after activists protested the death in custody of an Indigenous woman. Picture: Sarah Marshall/NCA NewsWire

The death is now being investigated by the internal police watchdog - Ethical Standards Command - and is being overseen by the Crime and Corruption Commission.

A watch-house officer, who is not a sworn police officer, has been suspended from duty.
Police are investigating whether she missed at least five hourly welfare checks on Ms Tilberoo.

Aunty Sherry’s death is currently the subject of an investigation. Picture: Sarah Marshall/NCA NewsWire
Aunty Sherry’s death is currently the subject of an investigation. Picture: Sarah Marshall/NCA NewsWire

A QPS spokesman declined to comment on the ongoing investigation, saying the death was under investigation for the state coroner.

 

Originally published as Wash-house: Prisoners unchecked as officers do dirty work


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