Eleven months after the fact, a NSW police officer was charged on Tuesday with assault occasioning actual bodily harm and common assault, after he swept the legs of a 16-year-old First Nations boy out from under him in a Surry Hills park and proceeded to slam him face first into a brick footpath.
The 1 June 2020 incident was captured on video footage, which revealed the constable and a number of teens involved in a verbal exchange, when the officer took offence to some bad language and walked over to the minor, pinned his elbows behind him, before kicking his feet out.
The camera phone footage went viral, and the officer was placed on restricted duties. While two days after the incident, NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller appeared before the press to defend his officer’s actions, which he put down to his having “a bad day”.
A NSW police statement released on 4 May outlines that officers from the Professional Standards Command had been investigating the constable, who has now been issued with a court attendance notice, which requires him to front up to the Downing Centre Local Court on 24 June.
A targeted approach
The footage of the incident sparked outrage last June, especially as it came just days after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered African American man George Floyd, sparking Black Lives Matter rallies across the globe, including in Sydney.
NSW MLC David Shoebridge convened a press conference in state parliament with the family of the boy in attendance. The Greens member called out the police commissioner for showing a “lack of leadership”, which he posits “filters down amongst that organisation”.
The teen’s mother told journalists that she didn’t want her son being “marked out or targeted as a person who could possibly become a criminal” and outlined that her family are always being pulled up on the street to answer to “extra obligations” because they’re Aboriginal.
In representing the family, National Justice Project principal solicitor George Newhouse said before the cameras, “We are standing here, yet again, with another traumatised Aboriginal family in circumstances where there has been an incident of police brutality.”
A significant shift?
The charging of the NSW constable follows a number of other Australian law enforcement and corrections officers having been charged in relation to alleged crimes against First Nations people, when all too often they’re simply allowed to walk away from these incidents.
NT police officer Zachary Rolfe was charged with murder over the shooting death of 19-year-old Warlpiri man Kumanjayi Walker. He’s set to stand trial later this year. While a WA police officer is facing a murder charge over the killing of a Yamatji woman known as JC in September 2019.
In an Australian first, a Corrective Services NSW officer was charged in February this year with manslaughter over the 15 March 2019 death in custody of Wiradjuri man Dwayne Johnstone. The officer is alleged to have shot the handcuffed and shackled man in the back as he attempted escape.
Last month’s 30th anniversary of the handing down of the Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody report saw the growing BLM movement hold nationwide protests calling for greater accountability for police and corrections officers involved in First Nations custodial deaths.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.