Two Melbourne police officers have been charged with ‘attempting to pervert the course of justice’ in a ruling by the Victorian Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
The ruling by the DPP overturns a decision by the Victorian Police Force’s internal watchdog, the Professional Standards Command (PSC).
The PSC, which is headed by Assistant Commissioner Brett Guerin, has repeatedly come under fire for failing to make officers accountable for misconduct.
The charges against Leading Senior Constables Dennis Gundrill and Simon Mareangareu relate to the arrest of two teenagers outside a convenience store in Vermont, in East Melbourne on Christmas morning 2014.
The treatment of the teens was only investigated by Victoria Police after video footage was produced corroborating the teens’ version of the events.
The footage, taken by one of the boys, was mysteriously deleted from the boy’s confiscated phone within hours of the incident, but was later recovered when the boy’s father paid $4000 to a digital recovery specialist.
At the time of the arrest, one of the police officers yelled, “Let’s get rid of that video”, as he grappled with one of the youths.
The two 16-year-old boys were originally charged with assaulting police, resisting arrest and possessing about one gram of marijuana. All charges were dropped in August 2015.
Not only were there significant inconsistencies between the statements by Leading Senior Constables Gundrill and Mareangareu, but their versions of the events were vastly different from both the video footage and a statement from an independent witness, a security guard.
The officers’ explanations for questioning the boys on Christmas morning also changed over time.
At least three senior officers involved in the internal investigation supported charges of perjury or perverting the course of justice being laid, but their views were dismissed by Assistant Commissioner Guerin.
Mr Guerin also neglected to consult the DPP before deciding that charges for lying would not be brought, and to charge the officers with assault only.
Both officers have been allowed to perform administrative duties on full pay until the matter is resolved in the courts.
One of boys’ fathers has accused Victorian Police of a ‘good old fashioned cover up’.
The DPP conducted a fresh investigation into the incident, finding more than enough evidence to bring serious charges against the officers. In addition to charges of ‘perverting the course of justice’, it is understood LSC Mareangareu will face an additional charge of ‘intentionally causing injury’.
The DPP’s decision is a serious rebuke of Assistant Commissioner Guerin.
Police Policing Themselves
It is hoped the case will put some pressure on police to make their officers more accountable, amid growing concerns that ‘internal investigations’ are often little more than a public relations exercise to counter any suggestion that police forces fail to take action against officers who engage in brutality, lying when under a legal obligation to tell the truth and other forms of misconduct.
The case comes hot on the heels of an inquiry by the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) into several allegations of misconduct against officers stationed at Ballarat. One of those incidents concerned the treatment of a female officer on leave from the Victorian Police Force who was stripped and assaulted after being arrested for drunk and disorderly behaviour.
Unsurprisingly, the Ballarat officers were cleared by the Professional Standards Command, but the incident is now at the centre of an IBAC investigation, which is set to release its recommendations on whether the officers should be charged.
We can only hope that with public pressure mounting, there will one day be a more effective, more impartial way for complaints to be handled, bringing greater accountability to the way officers behave in the line of duty, and off-duty too.