MORE than 250 people from the local African-Australian community gathered in Flemington yesterday to demand a full investigation into the death of Michael Atakelt, 22, found dead in the Maribyrnong River on July 7.
Many present, representing local families and community groups, said the young man’s death was yet another tragedy for a community already grieving for their youth, who they claim are harassed by some Victoria Police officers.
The man’s father, Getachew Atakelt Seyoum, said Footscray police officers had told him his son had no injuries when found. But when he identified him, he had a damaged left eyeball, a smashed nose, a big scratch and blood on his face, and his body was covered in bruises, he said. Michael Atakelt had been held by Footscray police overnight and released on June 26, the day he went missing.
”We don’t know what happened to Michael from the time he was taken into police custody. This is very traumatic.”
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Fontana, who attended the meeting at the North Melbourne Community Centre with two other officers, said the homicide squad had attended the scene where the body was found and the Footscray criminal investigation unit was investigating. An autopsy had been completed but results were not yet available and the cause of death was not yet known.
”In relation to Michael’s last movement, he was in custody prior to last being seen. We have got the Ethical Standards Department involved in the investigation,” Mr Fontana said.
Michael Atakelt, who was of Ethiopian background, was last seen by his girlfriend on June 26. His mother, Askalu Tella, rang Footscray police several times and went to the station daily from July 4 to 6 to make a missing person’s report.
She said they told her they had no information.
She took five members of the community with her on July 7, but was again sent away. She says police told her later to come back in, when she was told her only child had been found in the river.
Those at the meeting expressed anger that police did not follow standard practice and go to her house to tell her.
Many young men at the meeting claimed Michael had been constantly called into the police station for reasons that were unclear to him.
Mr Seyoum, said Michael – a popular young man who worked part-time at a Subway store and was a student at Victoria University – did not know why police called him into the station more than 10 times in June alone.