Sergeant Colin Dods says he thinks about the shooting of Tyler Cassidy every day, and that the dates of the young man’s birth and death are ‘seared’ into his mind.
Officer Dods has been awarded $150,000 in damages, after a jury found a Queensland barrister liable for defamatory comments posted online.
In 2012, barrister Michael McDonald made comments online to the effect that Officer Dods had shot and killed fifteen-year-old Tyler Cassidy without justification, had gunned him down like he was a “monster and dangerous mongrel dog” and had used force which was out of proportion to any threat posed by Tyler.
Mr McDonald also claimed that Dods shot the boy six times despite knowing police could have overpowered him – an act which, according to the barrister, amounted to manslaughter.
Officer Dods told the court that he wrote to McDonald asking for the comments to be removed, but did not receive a reply.
The comments caused Dods so much distress that he decided to take the matter to court, where a jury decided in his favour.
In assessing damages, Supreme Court Justice Kevin Bell classified the degree of defamation as “very grave”, describing the comments as a baseless challenge to the officer’s integrity and public standing.
He ordered McDonald to pay Dods $150,000 in damages.
The tragedy of Tyler Cassidy
On December 11, 2008, young Tyler Cassidy was killed during a confrontation with Victorian police. Senior Constable Colin Dods was one of four officers involved.
Tyler was a troubled teen, struggling to get over the loss of his father to cancer.
Enraged, possibly drunk, and armed with two 30cm kitchen knives, Tyler met a friend at the All Nations Skate Park behind Northcote Plaza Shopping Centre at about 9.30pm.
Police were already there, responding to several calls from members of the public concerned about the teen’s erratic behaviour. Tyler made one of those calls himself, yelling:
“He’s got a gun … and he’s gone crazy … Shoot him f—ing dead!”
Tyler had made several references about police to friends and family earlier that evening, which will forever remain cryptic. When he arrived at the park, his mate, Daniel Chowne, told him to ditch the knives, but Tyler did not comply.
Four officers walked towards Tyler, including Colin Dods who was armed with OC spray, and Senior Constable Richard Blundell, who had his pistol drawn. Two female officers walked behind them.
“Just shoot me! C’ Mon shoot me!”, Tyler was allegedly heard to scream.
He is said to have advanced towards the officers, focusing on Sargent Dods whom he “marched at”. Dods applied OC spray and repeatedly told the boy to put his weapons down. Warning shots were fired.
Tyler could be heard saying “F—ing shoot me!” and “I’m going to kill you, you’re going to have to kill me,” and “Kill me, I want to die anyway.”
The officers said they feared for their safety as Tyler marched towards Senior Constable Dods in an “almost robotic” manner.
They opened fire on the teen. Ten shots were fired in all. Tyler was struck five times and died at the scene.
Officers exonerated over death
It was never established exactly which officer’s bullets killed Tyler. However in 2011, The State Coroner of Victoria exonerated all four police officers of any responsibility after finding that Dods had been in “perilous danger”.
In the civil proceedings, Justice Bell found that Mr McDonald’s comments had caused significant harm to Dods:
“The publication caused… [Officer Dods] to suffer continuing intense distress, humiliation and embarrassment and thereby great harm in his reputation.
But while the case is a victory for Officer Dods, Tyler’s family continues to grieve the loss of their young boy.