The family of a young Brazilian man who died in Sydney after being pursued by police firing Taser stun guns and pepper spray, because he had allegedly stolen a packet of biscuits, are demanding a full inquiry into the circumstances of his death.
In an incident which has been compared to the fatal shooting by police of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell underground station in London in 2005, Roberto Laudisio Curti was chased by six officers who accused the 21-year-old of stealing a packet of biscuits from a city centre convenience store. He stopped breathing soon after being stunned and hit with pepper spray.
His death early on Sunday prompted calls for a review of the use of Tasers, which are supposed to be deployed by police only to protect the public. "[They] were meant to prevent fatalities rather than cause them," said Sam Lee, of Australia's National Coalition for Gun Control.
Mr Laudisio Curti, who had come to Australia to study English, was staying with his Sydney-based sister, Ana Luisa Laudisio, who works for a legal consultancy firm, and her Australian husband, a banker. The family said in a statement: "We are still coming to terms with the sudden and unexpected death of our beloved Roberto."
With Brazilian diplomats in Australia calling for an explanation of his death, labelled a "murder" by some Brazilian media, the New South Wales government promised an independent and transparent inquiry.
It has appointed the state ombudsman to oversee a police investigation. "We all want answers," the NSW Premier, Barry O'Farrell, said yesterday. Family and friends have denied that Mr Laudisio Curti, who was out with friends on Saturday night, was involved in a theft. "The truth is that Roberto just was walking home, the police catch the wrong guy, Taser him, and he died," a friend, Dan Silva, told The Australian. "The police killed our friend, and someone needs to pay for what happened."
The student is said to be from a well-known and wealthy Brazilian family. "He has money for everything he wants," his uncle, Joao Eduardo Laudisio, told Sydney's Daily Telegraph. He denied that his nephew had any health problems that might have been contributed to his death, saying that doctors had pronounced him "very healthy" after he underwent a medical before leaving for Australia last year.
The uncle, who has flown to Sydney with Mr Laudisio Curti's other sister, helped to bring him up after both his parents died of cancer.
Police say he matched the description of a man who stole biscuits from the convenience store, and that he resisted arrest. At least three officers fired their stun guns at Mr Laudisio Curti. The Brazilian consul in Sydney, Andre Costa, said: [Roberto] just went out for fun, like any other young male on a Saturday night, and that happened to him, so the family cannot understand it at all."
Friends of Mr Laudisio Curti are planning to protest outside the Australian consulate in Sao Paulo, and say they will dump biscuits at the gates. The family's statement said: "He was a young man who was much loved by family and his many friends, both in Australia and Brazil, and had a promising future ahead of him."