When State Coroner Mark Johns handed down his findings this week into the death of Zahra Abrahimzadeh, it was not the first time he had been scathing of the actions of South Australia’s police.
In 2011, the Office for Women and the Coroner’s Court created the position of a senior research officer to review open coronial cases where circumstances included domestic violence. To date, four inquests have been held and State Coroner Johns has overseen three of them.
These inquests have delivered 29 recommendations on the handling of domestic violence by various agencies – 17 of these are directed at SAPOL.
Deputy State Coroner Anthony Schapel oversaw the first of these inquests in January 2012. It concerned the death of Robyn Hayward, who was shot by her partner Edwin Durance in 2009. Durance had a history of domestic violence and was known to local police in the Riverland. When Hayward was murdered, Durance was on bail for an assault against her.
Prior to Hayward’s death, the local domestic violence officer for SAPOL tried to contact her to complete paperwork that would have classed her as at “high risk” from further assaults. When the officer failed to make contact before going on three weeks leave, no-one in SAPOL followed this up in her absence. In Coroner Schapel’s 13 recommendations on this case, six specifically requested the Commissioner of Police address procedures around dealing with matters of domestic violence.
Then, in February 2012, Coroner Johns delivered findings into the death of David Wyatt and his toddler son Jakob. Here he made recommendations concerning the Family Safety Network. If in place at the time of their deaths, he believes it could have prevented this homicide and suicide. In 2010, the State Commissioner of Police gave approval for SAPOL to roll out the Family Safety Framework, but this wasn’t completed until three years later.
One year later, in February 2013, Coroner Johns delivered findings into the death of Shane Robinson. Robinson was in breach of his parole orders and, while evading police, went to the home of his partner and assaulted her. She raised this with Correctional Services, who brought it to SAPOL’s attention. A call centre operator, under the instruction of a senior police officer, then made contact with the victim. The transcript of this phone call was submitted to the inquest and Coroner Johns found the call to be “extremely concerning”, saying, “it is almost shocking in its brevity”.
It was later revealed the senior officer felt it was completely reasonable to instruct a call centre staff member, who is not a police officer, to contact a victim of domestic violence. He said it was better to do that than “tie up a patrol when the person could have gone to a police station”.
Two of the Coroner’s six recommendations in this inquest related to call centre staff at SAPOL. One recommended regular training; another was that call centre staff “should not be allowed to make ‘cold calls’ to victims of domestic violence”. This task, he said, should be handled only by appropriately trained police officers.
On Monday, Coroner Johns repeated his recommendations that SAPOL administrative call centre staff not handle calls concerning domestic violence.
He detailed concerns about the call centre operations in his findings about the death of Zahra Abrahimzadeh, 44, who was repeatedly stabbed by her estranged husband in front of 300 people at a Persian function at the Adelaide Convention Centre in March 2010. Zialloh Abrahimzadeh is serving a minimum 26-year jail term.
Coroner Johns noted that when the Central Domestic Violence Service called SAPOL to alert them to Abrahimzadeh’s brother-in-law being outside their safe house, the call centre operator did not follow correct procedure. She also did not understand the context of the call and again a patrol car was not dispatched to assess the situation.
Of this, Coroner Johns said the operator was “not equipped with appropriate knowledge to ask the questions that a police officer would ask in that situation”.
In addition to his recommendations about call centres, he added that SAPOL cadets should receive a full day of training on domestic violence. This would include external agencies.
When Coroner Johns handed down his findings into the death of Abrahimzadeh, he made his recommendations to the Premier.
“The Premier will no doubt bring them to the attention of the Commissioner in due course, but it is my hope that the Premier will be able to maintain oversight of this key priority for Government,” he said.
You can read SAPOL’s response to Zahra Abrahimzadeh’s inquest here.
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