Two Aboriginal teenagers who drowned trying to swim across a river while fleeing cops died from their own poor choices, a coroner has ruled.
Jack Simpson, 17, and Chris Drage, 16, ‘made the dangerous decision to swim across the Swan River’ in Perth on September 10, 2018, the inquest found.
The inquest, which sought to determine whether the actions of Western Australian Police caused or contributed to their deaths, began in March.
The boys were among a group pursued by two police officers over suspected burglaries.
One of the officers was just 19 and on probation after she graduated as a cadet the same year.
The coroner has found police were not at fault over the tragic drownings of two Aboriginal teens who died as they tried to The Swan River while fleeing cops. Family and friends are pictured gathered by the river during a tribute to the two boys
Jack Simpson (left) drowned in the Western Australian river after jumping in the water to allegedly avoid police
In the final report, WA coroner Philip Urquhart made ‘no criticism’ of the officers, though he did make three recommendations including police cultural awareness training.
‘I make no criticism of their actions from when they commenced the foot pursuit through to their actions at the riverbank. Their actions were appropriate at all times,’ he said.
‘Regrettably, the [boys’] initial decision was then implemented with a catastrophic outcome.’
The river conditions the day the teens fled into the water were rough and the temperature a cold 11C.
The officers were responding to reports of a group of youths jumping fences in local backyards.
Both boys drowned in the Swan River in Western Australia and died in 11C water, with police unable to rescue them in time
The drowning deaths of Jack Simpson, 17, and Chris Drage, 16, in 2018 created a huge communal outpouring of grief but also raised questions about the behaviour of officers who pursued them
They saw the group running across Clarkson Road towards the Maylands Bowling Club, adjacent to the Swan River.
One boy made it across the river and another turned back to shore but the other two, referred to as Master Drage and Master Simpson at the request of their families, struggled in the difficult conditions.
Police managed to pull the others from the water, but Jack and Chris were too far from the river bank and never resurfaced.
A WA police boat is seen on the Swan River in September 2018 during the search for the boys’ bodies
‘I want to extend my condolences, and the condolences of all police, to the families of the two deceased boys and their friends and this very trying time,’ Western Australia Police Commissioner Chris Dawson (pictured)
The recommendations included that WA police undergo ‘immersive face-to-face cultural awareness training’ to improve their relationship with indigenous people.
The coroner also suggested WA police introduce a policy to partner probationary officers with more experienced ones.
The other recommendation was that any officer newly posted to the area receive training so they could identify significant physical, demographic, cultural, and socioeconomic local features.
‘I want to extend my condolences, and the condolences of all police, to the families of the two deceased boys and their friends and this very trying time,’ Western Australia Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said at the time.
‘This is nothing short of a tragedy that has taken these young boys lives.’
Chris’s father, Christopher Drage and his stepmother on Wednesday wrapped an Aboriginal flag around a tree near the river bank in memorial.
‘He was a good boy, just made a fatal decision to jump in the river to get away from the police,’ Mr Drage said, as he confessed to feeling ‘numb’.
‘Obviously they were scared, they were only young boys.’
Indigenous people gathered next to the Swan River to farewell the two teens who drowned there in 2018
Christopher Drage (left) said his son made a ‘silly mistake’ that cost him his life
Mr Drage hit out at hundreds of social media trolls who said the boys deserved their fate as they fled police after jumping fences and running through backyards earlier.
‘I ask people not to be judgemental. I think we all made silly mistakes as kids and it’s just tragic that they lost their lives,’ he said.
‘A lot of people want to blame other people or whatever, upbringing or the police.
‘But I suppose these young boys, that’s their way of having fun and unfortunately it costed them their lives.’
Chris’ mother, Winnie Hayward, spoke at length about her son’s struggles with bullying, marijuana use, and the impact of having no father figure in his life.
She said his father was in prison even when she brought Chris home for the first time as a newborn.
Many indigenous people from around the state wept and commemorated the two boys, including the Yamatji people from the Mid West region, where most of Jack’s family lives.