Reporter: Allison Langdon
Producers: David Alrich, Steven Burling
Reckless, dangerous, even thuggish. You'd think we were talking about a violent street gang.
But these are the words used by the New South Wales coroner this past week to describe members of that state's police force.
She was ruling on the death of a Brazilian student during a Sydney arrest in March.
That young man, Roberto Curti, was tackled by eleven officers. He was doused in capsicum spray and tasered 14 times.
It was a horrible way to die and one that continues to haunt the close-knit family he's left behind.
ANA: I think it’s here.
STORY – ALLISON LANGDON: On a windswept Sydney street, sisters Ana and Fe mourn the brother they lost.
ANA: Now he’s at peace, with his mother and his father.
ALLISON LANGDON: It was here, on March 18, that Roberto Laudisio Curti died, aged 21.
ANA: Sometimes you are angry, sometimes you are sad, sometimes you try not to think. It’s kind of like a rollercoaster.
ALLISON LANGDON: Tonight, for the first time, we hear from Roberto’s sisters about the death of their brother at the hands of the New South Wales police. How he died caused outrage here, and provoked demonstrations in his home country of Brazil.
MARY: Roberto’s only foes during the ordeal were the police.
ALLISON LANGDON: And it led to a scathing judgement by the NSW Coroner Mary Jerram, who condemned the police officers for their “pack-like mentality”.
MARY: Some of them did demonstrate an abuse of police powers.
ALLISON LANGDON: Give me one word to describe what happened that night.
ANA: Brutality is a good word. It was very brutal.
ALLISON LANGDON: It was a tragic end to what was supposed to be a great adventure - living in Sydney his eldest sister Ana and her husband Mike.
ANA: It’s a physical pain for me. No-one has any idea. No-one has any idea. Like, the hardest moments are unpredictable when they come, and the pain they bring, and I just - I don’t know. I’ve been through a lot in my life and to be honest this was the definitely the worst thing I have ever felt.
MIKE: It’s horrible to think that the police, that are supposed to be out there to protect the public, act like a gang, like they almost act exactly like the thing they’re trying to stop.
ALLISON LANGDON: Half a world away from Sydney, anger still lingers in the place where Roberto grew up. The sad irony is that Roberto moved to Australia from one of the world’s toughest and most dangerous cities, Sao Paulo. 3,500 people were murdered here last year. That is about 10 every day. For Roberto to die a violent death on the streets of Sydney – that’s something his family will never truly understand. He was such a cute little boy, wasn’t he?
FE: I think here he was nine.
ALLISON LANGDON: Roberto’s other sister Fe and grandmother Ide have only photos and memories of the cheeky young man they called Beto.
FE: She feels like she misses him.
ALLISON LANGDON: You shouldn’t have to outlive your grandchildren.
FE: Actually he was like a son for her too.
ALLISON LANGDON: And for the sisters, the bond with their brother was absolute. They lost both parents to cancer when they were young, forcing the teenage girls to raise Roberto from the age of 10.
FE: When we had to mention to Beto that my mum was sick, I think he already knew that she’ll not survive.
ALLISON LANGDON: So you took on the role of being Beto’s mum when you were just 17.
FE: Yes. For us it was hard too. Was hard because we lost our mum, and we had to become a mum to Beto.
ALLISON LANGDON: And to lose Beto too.
FE: It was hard. It was very hard.
ALLISON LANGDON: Roberto’s last night alive was a balmy autumn Sydney evening. He met two mates in the inner city, had a few drinks, and shared a tab of LSD – or acid. Then Roberto went his own way. Beto was taking drugs that night.
MIKE: Well, just ‘cause someone’s on drugs, does that mean you have to go and subdue every single person that takes drugs? Because that -
ALLISON LANGDON: Was he a regular drug user?
ALLISON LANGDON: Roberto might have had a small amount of LSD that night, but clearly it had a powerful and terrible effect on him. It was all too apparent when he called Ana at 4:30 in the morning.
ANA: We did receive like a call from him in the middle of the night, it was very unusual and weird.
ALLISON LANGDON: What did he say?
ANA: Oh, he was just saying some random stuff, like “oh, well now why, why do you want to kill me?” or things like that, and I was like “What, what are you talking about, and then I was like, what’s going wrong?”
ALLISON LANGDON: Had you ever heard him speak or act like that before?
ANA: Not at all, no.
ALLISON LANGDON: It’s shortly after that phone call, at 5:02 Sunday morning, that Roberto is seen being chased by three men. He walks into a convenience store, agitated, and ranting. He hides behind the counter. The shop assistant offers food and water and tries to calm him.
MIKE: It was obvious that Beto was really afraid, it was obvious to me that he was just looking for some form of protection, and he was just trying to get inside the counter area so he could feel safe.
ALLISON LANGDON: But suddenly, Roberto runs out, only to return moments later – now desperately seeking shelter. A street cleaner mistakes it for a robbery, and calls police.
POLICE RADIO: Rocks car, any car in the vicinity, for an armed robbery. City convenience store. Brazilian appearance. He’s a teenager. He has brown skin, and he was wearing blue jeans, and no top.
ALLISON LANGDON: The police find Roberto, and give chase. Eventually 11 officers are on his tail, and as the Coroner would find, many of them are unclear why he needs to be caught. What do you think those last 10 minutes of his life were like?
ANA: I don’t even try to think about them. It’s just, yeah, I mean 10 minutes – the other day I was just thinking, like, 10 minutes is a lot. If you are going through pain, like it’s a lot.
ALLISON LANGDON: The chase down two city blocks ends in a scene of chaos and distress. Roberto is tasered, cuffed, drenched in three cans of capsicum spray, and tasered again - in total 14 times.
ANA: The noises and the pain that he was going through - I’m sure it was like just really bad.
ALLISON LANGDON: The pain, the confusion.
MIKE: He just – yeah, he was terrified, it would seem, like -
ANA: And he was -
MIKE: He didn’t understand what was happening.
ANA: He was -
MIKE: He was crying out for help. He was crying out “why are you doing that to me?”
ANA: And he never got any response.
MIKE: And he never got a response, he just got sprayed with capsicum spray and stunned.
TOMMY: So Roberto fell just around - in front of the coffee shop, right over there.
ALLISON LANGDON: Witnesses, among them local resident Tommy Wang, watched as Roberto writhed in pain.
TOMMY: He looked very afraid and terrified. They did not like look like police for me. It looked like a gangster mob, like, I’d be afraid to see police that night.
ALLISON LANGDON: Roberto Laudisio Curti lost his life at 6:11am on the 18th of March, 2012. When do you think, in your heart, that you knew that he wasn’t coming home?
ANA: I think when I got a call.
ALLISON LANGDON: From the police?
ANA: Yeah. Until then I still had hope.
MIKE: They showed me a photo of Roberto that I think was from the convenience store, and I said “yep, that’s him.” And it was just so, so horrible.
ANA: I think the experience is like - it’s definitely worse than a true nightmare, like if you have a nightmare in your dreams, and if you try to say maybe that’s what I will feel, like - it’s way worse.
MARY: It’s impossible to believe that he would have died, but for the actions of police.
ALLISON LANGDON: Coroner Mary Jerram could not conclude exactly how Roberto died, but she described the police actions that night as thuggish and excessively forceful.
MARY: A few of the constables seem to have thrown themselves into the melee with an ungoverned pack mentality, like schoolboys in ‘Lord of the Flies.’
ALLISON LANGDON: Do you think they should be charged over his death?
ANA: Why not? I mean, I think that Beto died in their hands, so that should be further investigated. He died, they didn’t follow procedures, they were acting very brutal.
ALLISON LANGDON: Do you want to see any of these officers go to jail?
ANA: I don’t think we are looking for revenge, I don’t see we are really angry. I just think that when something goes wrong, people should be accountable for what they have done. And I don’t think that’s an unfair thing to wish for.
ALLISON LANGDON: What have you got in here?
MIKE: Well this isn’t everything. It’s nine volumes.
ALLISON LANGDON: For Ana and Mike, the Coroner’s findings are tough to read – a forensic account of Roberto’s final, desperate moments.
ANA: We had no idea of the level of force that was applied, the number of tasers, the number of officers involved.
ALLISON LANGDON: And it’s a wrenching reminder of Ana’s frantic efforts to contact her brother that night.
ANA: But look at that, that’s me, me, me, me, me.
MIKE: So there’s like 12 or something text messages from Ana, saying come home, like, this is after we didn’t know what happened to him. But he’d already died. Right, saying “please just come home.”
ANA: And then at some point even like –
MIKE: Please just come home, that’s all.
ALLISON LANGDON: And what was the last message that you sent him?
ANA: It was something like “I love you, trust me. Everything’ll be fine.”
ALLISON LANGDON: Ana and Mike are speaking out in the hope that no other family endures what they’ve had to. They want valuable lessons to be learnt from Roberto’s death, so that it doesn’t happen again. Can you trust police again?
MIKE: Until that happened, I’d always maybe had this sort of faith in the police force - that they were out there to do good, and to protect the public, and all that sort of thing. And after seeing what they did to Roberto, I don’t trust them anymore.
ALLISON LANGDON: Do you think Beto is in a good place now?
ANA: I think so. Good people can only be in good places, so I’m sure he’s in a good place.
ALLISON LANGDON: The NSW Police Integrity Commission will investigate whether there was any serious police misconduct, or criminal conduct, by police officers in the pursuit and restraint of Roberto Laudisio Curti. Not wanting to prejudice that process, NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione declined to be interviewed for tonight’s story.