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In the latest scandal to rock the NSW Police Force, a police officer has reportedly been observed pushing a cyclist off a bike on a busy intersection in peak hour traffic, endangering his safety and causing minor injuries.
Witnesses report that the officer, who was patrolling the intersection of College and William Streets in the CBD, approached the cyclist from behind and pushed him on the shoulder.
Unaware of the officer’s presence, the cyclist tumbled to the ground, suffering abrasions to his leg. One witness described the incident to the media:
‘The motorcyclist came up alongside him. There wasn’t a siren that I heard, and it’s not like he rode alongside him and asked him to pull over. It was literally like he came up from behind, then alongside and just pushed him over…He was lying in prone position, and kind of screaming and yelling in pain.
The guy was saying ‘You pushed me! What the hell? What the f—? You pushed me! … He was angry and appeared to be in pain…The police officer essentially said: ‘No I didn’t…It was like the guy [the cyclist] wasn’t even aware he [the police officer] was there. When he was on the ground, he was saying ‘I didn’t even know you were there. I didn’t hear you.’’
Another witness reported that officer’s force was ‘very excessive,’ and that he ‘knocked [the cyclist] down pretty hard.’
The cyclist was taken to hospital for treatment and discharged later in the day.
Cyclist advocacy groups have expressed outrage over the incident, pointing out that the cyclist could have been seriously injured. Chief Executive of Bicycle Network, Craig Richards, described the actions of police as ‘totally unacceptable,’ and has called for a ‘full explanation of why the rules were not followed.’
Police have issued no apology for their actions, saying instead that the cyclist will be issued with infringement notices for failing to stop at a red light and not wearing a helmet.
However, it has been reported that an internal investigation has been launched by the NSW Police Force.
Use of excessive force when making an arrest can constitute an assault, which should give rise to criminal charges – although police are rarely disciplined let alone criminally prosecuted.
A ‘common assault’ is where a person is put in fear for their immediate physical safety, and encompasses assaults where the injuries occasioned are no more than ‘transient or trifling’ eg red marks or scratches that fade away after a couple of days. A common assault can even occur without any touching at all. The maximum penalty for ‘common assault’ is 2 years imprisonment and/or a $2,200 fine.
If the injuries are more than trivial, such as a heavy grazing (as in the case of the cyclist), the more appropriate charge is ‘assault occasioning actual bodily harm’ which carries a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment.
This is certainly not the first report of police assaulting cyclists.
In October last year, Gold Coast police officer Nathan Irwin came under fire after he tackled a cyclist who was riding down the stairs of a Gold Coast RSL Club, causing him to suffer a shoulder injury and grazes to the head.
The offence for which the cyclist was apprehended was ‘riding without a helmet’. But despite the officer’s excessive and dangerous conduct, Mr Beard was the one left fighting to prove his innocence: he was charged with assaulting or obstructing a police officer, serious assault of a police officer causing bodily harm, and failing to wear a helmet.
Mr Beard fought the matter in court, where a Magistrate dismissed all charges against him; finding that police had used excessive force when arresting him. The Magistrate also ordered police to pay Mr Beard $2,000 in compensation. The officer was then referred for an internal investigation, the results of which are not yet known.