Salote Isa’ako had no idea spit hoods were used on prisoners until she saw footage of her mother’s final moments with one of them over her head.
- The Queensland Police Service will discontinue the use of spit hoods in the state’s watch houses
- That does not cover prisons where Queensland Corrective Services say hoods are used “as a last resort”
- Advocates are calling for the ban to be legislated and to go further
Her mother Selesa Tafaifa, 44, died in the Townsville Women’s Correctional Centre in North Queensland in November 2021.
A document from the Coroner’s Court of Queensland said CCTV footage “indicates” Ms Tafaifa died “following a prolonged period of physical restraint” including “the application of handcuffs and the use of a spit hood to cover Selesa’s head”.
It said Ms Tafaifa “had a range of significant health issues” and her “cause of death is not yet determined”.
Her daughter, 28-year-old Salote Isa’ako, has described her mother as “bubbly, loving and caring”.
She said she is traumatised by the circumstances of her mother’s death.
“It disgusts me, especially seeing it firsthand with the CCTV footage,” Ms Isa’ako said.
“When I saw it, I was shocked, I had no words, it was just tears.
“It almost destroyed me, because it was my mum and to hear her voice under that spit hood, it’s traumatising.”
Spit hoods still used in prisons
The face coverings known as spit hoods were introduced in 2009 to prevent police officers from being spat on or bitten.
The announcement ending their use does not extend to prisons.
In a statement, Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) said the hoods were used on “less than half a per cent” of prisoners in QCS custody in 2021-2022.
“Safety hoods are presently used as a last resort preventative measure on prisoners that spit or bite, or attempt to spit at or bite officers,” the statement said.
“To minimise the risk to our officers and the people in our custody, Queensland Corrective Services is currently reviewing its processes and policies in relation to individuals who bite or spit at officers, noting that our operating environment is different to that of police.
“Like every use-of-force option, safety hood deployments are recorded and reviewed both locally and by state-wide safety committees to ensure they are used appropriately.”
Should be a ‘better way’ of dealing with those in custody
Ms Tafaifa’s family want spit hoods banned by law in all settings across Australia.
“It’s just a matter of looking at … the families that it’s damaging,” Ms Isa’ako said.
“We want to make sure that no other family goes through what we’re going through — we want to make sure that a father or a mother, like my mum’s parents, don’t have to hear this.
“That no parents get to get this phone call and then for the other family members to explain a spit hood was involved.”
Ms Tafaifa was the eldest of 10 siblings.
Her 31-year-old brother Su’a Isa’ako said he missed his sister and authorities should “know a better way” of dealing with those in custody.
“It’s my sister that passed away and it wasn’t her time,” he said.
“The hardest thing is I’ve never seen my dad cry — never — but that day when my sister die, I heard him cry.”
Inquest into death to be held next year
A coronial inquest into Ms Tafaifa’s death is due to be held in February 2023.
QCS said it was “assisting police” to prepare a report for the inquest and it would be “inappropriate to comment further”.
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The National Ban Spit Hoods Coalition said the watch house ban on the hoods should be enshrined in law and go further.
“Whether they’re used in a prison, a medical setting, or in a watch house, spit hoods pose the same grave threat to human life and dignity,” it said.
“Queensland must follow South Australia’s example in banning spit hoods in legislation — everywhere and for everyone.”
Queensland Police Union (QPU) president Ian Leavers said the decision to end the use of spit hoods in watch houses would take away “an option” for police.
“We try to use as little force as possible on each occasion, but I can be upfront about this — the options available to us is to use open or closed hand tactics when these people spit and bite on police,” he said.