The arrest of Friendlyjordies producer Kristo Langker by the NSW Police Fixated Persons Unit at the front door of his family home one Friday afternoon in mid-2021, is one of the more bizarre incidents over the last few years, which have been marked by Kafkaesque political climate.
The semi-terror unit detectives wrestled with the political satirist before taking him to the station on 4 June, just hours after the 21-year-old had approached then NSW deputy premier John Barilaro in public and asked him on camera about his moves to sue Friendlyjordies presenter Jordan Shanks.
NSW police then charged Langker with four counts of stalking over two clearly tongue-in-cheek incidents. The first involved approaching the Nationals minister at a university bar event to again question his defamation case against Shanks, who, at the time, was dressed as Super Mario’s Luigi.
However, after the NSW Police Force took such an overreach approach in arresting the Sydney Conservatorium of Music student and charging him with a serious crime that carries up to 5 years in prison, the law enforcement agency went ahead and dropped the charges against him on 10 March.
So, while the Langker family is breathing a sign of relief, the whole saga has left us all a little confused as to why NSW police conducted such histrionics only to then not follow through on them, as well as how the Fixated Persons Unit came to take these actions so soon after a chance meeting.
Criminalising political satire
“What became evident was Kristo and Jordan were being monitored for a long time before this event – for many months,” said Sydney lawyer Mark Davis, who’s been representing Langker in the stalking matter, as well as Shanks during his now settled Barilaro-brought defamation case.
“How on Earth did they come to the attention of the Fixated Persons Unit?” he continued. “It’s particularly sinister, in my view.
Davis outlined that after having sought documentation, it soon became apparent to the defence team that no fixated persons assessment had ever been conducted into either of his clients prior to the unit’s detectives appearing at Langker’s doorstep on a quiet suburban street.
However, the link to the unit that saw them almost instantly arrive to make the arrest without any procedurally required assessment was the fact that they had been monitoring the two political satirists in relation to their YouTube channel, despite it appearing to be out of the unit’s mandate.
“There is a strong political odour hanging over the ability to have a dedicated police unit with extended powers and resources to monitor political satirists, as well as the very speedy response of the terror unit,” Davis told Sydney Criminal Lawyers.
Lone wolf satirists
Embedded within the NSW Police Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics Command, the Fixated Persons Investigations Unit commenced its operations on 1 May 2017, when it was established to monitor “lone wolf actors” obsessed with public officials and therefore may pose a threat to them.
Then NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller outlined that the unit was a direct response to the 2014 Martin Place Lindt Café siege, as it provides detectives with the ability to focus on an individual who may carry out a violent act but doesn’t quite fit the description of a terrorist.
As part of this process, prior to taking any action, a referral must be made to the NSW Police Terrorism Intelligence Unit, and then a panel must assess whether the person qualifies as a fixated person: a process that involves NSW Health.
During budget estimates last September, however, NSW police deputy commissioner Dave Hudson and assistant commissioner Mark Walton explained that while a referral had been made regarding Shanks, that hadn’t been one relating to Langker, and neither had official assessments been made.
A stretch of the imagination
Langker was therefore wrestled to the ground and placed in an unmarked police car by Fixated Persons Unit detectives, who weren’t properly charged with having him in their sights, while they somehow had directly been informed the young man had just spoken to Barilaro in the street.
The 4 June footage of the 12.30 pm incident shows Langker, who was leaving a lecture, walking up to Barilaro, who was getting into a car, and attempting to bring up the lawsuit against Shanks. The politician ignores him, gets in the car, which then drives away.
This seemingly innocuous, while perhaps a little annoying, incident warranted a prompt swoop from the Fixated Persons Unit, followed by time spent in the Newtown Police Station lockup and the laying of four counts of stalking, only to have the matter completely dropped months later.
“If you google Kristo Langker’s name now, it comes up that he’s been charged as a stalker,” Davis advised on the impact the incident has had. “So, the accusation by John Barilaro and the actions of the Fixated Persons Unit have utterly and improperly attached this to Kristo Langker.”
The lawyer added that normally under such circumstances, where there was no immediate threat, the serving of a Field Court Attendance Notice would have sufficed. And if Langker didn’t have the public profile to enable him to crowdfund his legal expenses the outcome may have been different.
The story continues
Downing Centre Local Court ordered NSW police pay Langker $12,000 in legal costs earlier this month. And his lawyer is considering “all legal avenues” Kristo and his family can take in regard to it, including in terms of the alleged assault of his mother and girlfriend during the arrest incident.
Last week, at an estimates hearing, NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge quizzed state attorney general Mark Speakman on what he’d be doing about the questionable arrest, the pressing of stalking charges without supporting evidence, and their subsequent withdrawal.
The chief lawmaker responded that it wasn’t up to his department and if a complaint is made to the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC), then it should take up the matter.
Shoebridge also made the point that it was lucky for Langker that he could muster the funds to challenge the charge in court.
“Since when are terror units assigned a political task of monitoring journalists and comedians, unless there is indeed some physical threat that’s being suggested and there was none here?” Davis asked in closing.
“I hope that our parliament, at least, gets to the bottom of what this unit is doing, and how it has morphed so profoundly from looking for lone wolf actors to watching YouTube videos that might cause offence to a political boss,” the lawyer ended.