Watchdog Will Refer Finding of Serious Police Misconduct to Parliament

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An independent commission has been shown footage of several Byron Bay police officers pinning down a naked, 16-year old boy and repeatedly hitting him with a baton.

The Chief Commissioner of the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) said one of the officers engaged in “serious misconduct” by forcefully striking the teenager four times with his police baton, then another 14 times without any reason to do so.

“Please help me God”

The footage, taken by a member of the public, shows four officers holding down the teenager while one of them unleashes upon him with the baton.

The teenager can be heard during the beating yelling, “Please help, help!”, “I’m not resisting”, “Please help me God” and “I’m not a threat to anybody”.

The officers are heard calling the teen a “fucking loser” and a “cunt”.

The context

Byron Bay police received a call from a member of the public at 2:00am on January 11, advising that a naked male was walking in the street.

The teenager, referred to as ‘AO’ during the recent inquiry, was said to be disoriented and acting under the influence of LSD.

Counsel assisting the commission, Terence Rowles, emphasised the lack of justification for the sustained assault.

“Although it is certainly the case that AO was acting irrationally and was plainly intoxicated in some way, he had not attempted to attack anyone, either physically or verbally, he was plainly unarmed,” he told the commission.

He added that although AO was disoriented, there was no indication he was swearing at police or threatening them.

Mr Rowles informed the commission that the teen sustained a broken rib and extensive bruising as a result of the assault.

Witnesses to the event gave statements to the effect that “the first thing the officers did” when they arrived at the scene was to pepper spray the teen, which “made him more agitated”. The officers then Tasered him. Witnesses further stated that the boy did not threaten anyone at any time.

The excuses

The officer who launched the attack upon AO, known as “Officer E”, attempted to defend his actions by claiming it was necessary to restrain the teen.

“We couldn’t restrain him … you see Officer C get kicked off, [AO] is thrusting his legs and his hips and we couldn’t restrain him,” Officer E told the commission.

“Wouldn’t you just administer one [baton] blow and see if it had the desired affect?” Mr Rowles asked in response. “In my experience, it doesn’t have the desired effect,” Officer E replied.

Mr Rowles then asked the officer if he warned the teen by saying words to the effect of, “Settle down or I’ll have to hit you?”, to which the officer replied: “No.”

Chief Commissioner Michael Adams said the blows had nothing to do with immobilising AO, because he was already pinned to the ground by several officers.

One of the other officers involved in the incident, officer D, told the commission he felt the strikes were unnecessary.

“I was focusing on the handcuffing and when I heard the baton strikes … I was wondering, ‘why?’ … I just thought they were unnecessary” he said.

The findings

Commissioner Adams said that Officer E displayed a “complete lack of common sense”.

“Some thought, some insight about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, that’s what I’m searching to get,” Commissioner Adams remarked.

“I’m finding it difficult to accept your reasoning as reasonable … what you are doing appears to be deliberate.”

The commissioner Adams was especially critical of the fact Officer E initially struck the immobilised, naked boy 4 times and then – despite the boy remaining immobilised – saw fit to deliver a further 14 strikes with his baton. Mr Adams concluded the only apparent motive was to inflict pain upon the teen.

Officer E told the commission he had been given just four days of “use of force” training in the past five years, which involved using a baton against a punching bag.

The LECC has no power to discipline or prosecute police officers. It is expected to present its report to state parliament in the coming weeks.

It will then be for the state to determine whether to recommend the initiation of a prosecution.

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Zeb Holmes

Zeb Holmes

Zeb Holmes is a lawyer with a passion for social justice who advocates criminal law reform, and a member of the content team at Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.
Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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