Australian leader launches inquiry into ‘shocking’ teen detainee abuse

Australia’s prime minister has ordered a sweeping investigation into alleged abuse at a juvenile detention center after video emerged of Aboriginal teens being tear-gassed, stripped naked and shackled to a chair. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he would launch a Royal Commission — Australia’s highest form of inquiry — and suggested that there had been an institutional cover-up of the scandal. Rights groups, however, scoffed at the cover-up claim, saying officials had ignored evidence of abuse in the corrections system for years. The footage, which aired Monday on the Australian Broadcasting Corp.’s investigative program “Four Corners,” was filmed largely at a youth detention center in the Northern Territory city of Darwin between 2010 and 2015.

We are determined to get to the bottom of this, we’re determined to examine the extent to which there has been a culture of abuse and, indeed, whether there has been a culture of a cover-up.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

When the tear gas incident occurred in 2014, officials said guards used the chemical to subdue six teens who had staged a riot. But closed circuit television and video footage filmed by staff at the center appears to show that the tear gas was used after just one teen escaped his cell, while the other five remained locked in their cells. The guards are heard laughing as the teens cough and cry after multiple shots of tear gas were fired into the isolation wing where they were housed. One of the detainees can be heard saying he can’t breathe. In another video, a guard is seen picking up a 13-year-old and hurling him across the room onto his bed. The same boy is also seen in footage from a different Northern Territory detention facility being stripped naked and held face-down on his bed by three guards after he apparently threatened to hurt himself.

They knew … that their behavior was clearly not right, it was evil, but they also knew they had absolutely no chance of that being a problem to anyone.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion