The Corruption and Crimes Commission (CCC) of Western Australia heard last week that a senior police officer punched and kneed an Aboriginal detainee at the Kimberley’s Broome police watch-house. It was also alleged that other police officers stood by as prisoners were stripped, insulted and abused. The incidents were caught on closed circuit television (CCTV).
An Aboriginal man, who has not been identified, was allegedly punched by a police officer during an altercation at the Broome watch-house. Police have admitted to the CCC that they should have taken the bloodied man to hospital following the assault but only did “a visual assessment.” Senior Constable Maw said to the CCC that the man had blood on his face while he lay on the ground during the “visual assessment.”
Some police are disturbed by a police-sub culture of rogue violence brought about by “desensitisation.” One senior Kimberley police officer said that police were becoming desensitised to the people they were coming into contact with because of the repetitive nature of the engagements with people they have to confront.
Kimberley District Superintendent Mick Sutherland said last Friday to the CCC that police were becoming so desensitised that it affected their empathy for detainees and therefore their duty of care to them.
“Because it’s so repetitive I think they would become desensitised to what is in front of them and I don’t know how we could address that in some form, and actually other than just reminding them.”
“This is what I am saying about this review is that it would be a timely reminder.”
He said he was concerned by the number of police officers who stood by the incidents but he said police work was challenging.
In one incident CCTV footage showed a “neck hold” being used. This should not have occurred as he said police were not trained to use neck holds because of the risk of asphyxiation.
The CCC is inquiring into two separate incidents of arrests made on March 29 and April 19.
Senior Constable Maw was on duty at the time of the April 19 incident where a 31 year-old Aboriginal man was arrested for public drinking.
The CCC heard that WA Police guidelines require a medical assessment of any detainee who is unconscious or semi-conscious prior to being locked up.
Senior Constable Maw told the CCC he heard the former police officer tell the detainee that he “punched like a faggot”. The Senior Constable did not report this because he did not “think it crossed the line.”
The CCC was shown CCTV footage of the two arrests by the 31 year old former constable, whose identity has been suppressed. After being served a loss of confidence notice by Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan he resigned from the WA Police.
Last week the CCC’s Commissioner Roger Macknay QC sought to lift the suppression order and publicly release the CCTV footage of the incident. But the former first-class constable at the centre of the furore launched a Supreme Court challenge in a bid to prevent the public dissemination of the CCTV footage.
The former officer’s lawyer, Karen Vernon, said any premature disclosure of the footage could jeopardise the natural rights of her client in the event of any potential legal proceedings against him.
Commissioner Macknay who ruled on the Thursday to release the footage in the public interest then ruled on the Friday to delay any decision to Tuesday as to whether to release the footage. By Tuesday the Supreme Court will have had time to deliberate on submissions regarding any injunction.
The footage allegedly showed overt police brutality towards citizens who were allegedly disorderly in the first instant.
In the March 29 incident, a teenager who refused to leave the back of the police van was dragged out of the van and then backwards by his neck through the Broome police station and into a cell where he was stripped naked.
In the April 19 incident, the same police officer is seen to allegedly repeatedly punch the Aboriginal detainee after he allegedly appeared to aim a punch at the officer. The officer also allegedly dropped his knee twice to the man’s head.
The former officer denies he kneed the man’s head.
Supt Sutherland described the alleged force as “excessive to the extreme.” He described the CCTV footage as disturbing.
Commissioner Macknay is investigating whether the officer’s colleagues should have intervened.
In reference to the March 29 incident Senior Constable Duncan Carter who was at the scene told the CCC he did not intervene because he believed he may have inflamed the situation. He said he would have acted differently as an arresting officer.
“I would have left him there in the van until his patience ran out,” said Constable Carter.