Thursday, October 30, 2014

Serving SA Police officer Amanda Boughen pleads guilty to fabricating, altering or concealing evidence in ongoing case

A SERVING SA Police officer has admitted she fabricated, altered or concealed evidence in an ongoing investigation while working patrols in the northern suburbs.

For the first time, The Advertiser can today report details of the prosecution of Senior Constable Amanda Boughen following a plea bargain deal and the lifting of a suppression order.

Boughen, 40, of Mawson Lakes, had previously pleaded not guilty to one count of abuse of public office and one count of attempting to obstruct or pervert the course of justice.

It was alleged those offences, at Ingle Farm in May 2010, involved Boughen tipping off her then-lover, Storm Strang, to an investigation into his Bridge Rd, Para Hills drug crop.

Strang, 41, is facing sentencing for his role as ringleader of a three-state, four-year, $40 million cannabis trafficking syndicate that involved TV personality Clayton Lush.

However, Boughen also faced a separate set of allegations concerning her actions at the now-defunct Para Hills Police Station between May and September 2006.

That charge — one count of fabricate, alter or conceal evidence — has been the subject of an Adelaide Magistrates Court suppression order since it was filed earlier this year.

Today, Boughen pleaded guilty to that offence and the court heard the abuse of public office and obstruction counts had been withdrawn by prosecutors as part of a plea bargain.

Upon application by The Advertiser, Judge Paul Rice revoked the suppression order — permitting publication of all matters concerning Boughen for the first time.

Boughen was today remanded on continuing bail to face sentencing submissions next month.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Policeman Nathan Harkness convicted on drink-driving, drug charges

An off-duty Victorian policeman who fled the scene of a multi-car crash was found to have a blood alcohol concentration of .196 and the drug ecstasy in his system.

Nathan Harkness had been to a 40th birthday party in June when he drove through a red light outside Geelong and braked heavily before crashing into a parked car, which struck a second vehicle.

Melbourne Magistrates Court was told on Tuesday that Harkness, 38, a senior constable, drove from the scene about 9am as the other drivers readied to exchange names and addresses.

Prosecutor Julian Ayres told the court that soon after, and "coincidentally", his car was noticed with damage by other police members.

Mr Ayres said Harkness tested positive to alcohol and at 11.52am a blood test was taken that later revealed the high reading and also the presence of ecstasy.

Harkness, who is suspended, pleaded guilty to charges of exceeding the prescribed concentration of alcohol, careless driving, failing to stop after an accident and failing a drug blood test.

His barrister, Sean Hardy, told the court his client, a policeman since 2008, was married with three children, had no prior convictions and his chance of retaining his job "doesn't look good".

Mr Hardy said Harkness did not take drugs and believed his drink may have been spiked, but admitted he tended to binge-drink alcohol.

He would suffer hardship as a result of his poor judgment, he submitted, as the circumstances were "not going to assist him" in future applications for work.

Deputy Chief Magistrate Felicity Broughton told Harkness he was lucky his wife was not greeted at their front door with the news he had been killed or he had killed someone else.

Ms Broughton said he was "well aware of the carnage on the roads" and that he was "incredibly lucky" his type of drink-driving was not worse.

She told him he ought to have clearly known it was his duty to uphold the law and advised him that he needed to urgently and consistently address his issue with alcohol, but was confident "we will not see you back here again".

Harkness was convicted on all charges, fined a total of $2000 and had his licence cancelled for 19 months.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Man tasered, left quadriplegic after police house raid in West Australia

A MAN suffered horrific spinal injuries during a police raid on a house when he was tasered in the head and allegedly thrown to the ground.

Plumber Mark Ratcliff is a quadriplegic as a result of the September 4 raid in which his vertebrae were smashed, rupturing his spinal cord.  The 24-year-old has been in intensive care for more than a month and has recovered enough to talk only in the past few weeks.

Mr Ratcliff said he was asleep on the couch at a friend’s house in St James when police broke through the door. They were executing a search warrant looking for drugs.

He recalls being startled and said he ran towards the front door on instinct, but said he never made it outside because he was stopped by police and thrown to the floor.

“I remember a big bang when they kicked the door in,” Mr Ratcliff said.  “I jumped straight up to see what the fuss was – someone’s kicked the door down on my mate’s house. I wanted to know what was going on. I remember getting thrown; I don’t remember getting tasered.”

A scar on his skull and another on his hand show where the taser barbs embedded.

But Mr Ratcliff believes it was being thrown to the ground that shattered the vertebrae in his neck and ruptured his spinal cord.

In a written statement, a spokeswoman for WA Police Commissioner Karl O’Callag-han said internal affairs was investigating whether the officers used excessive force.  The Corruption and Crime Commission will oversee the investigation.

The statement said officers were involved in a “struggle” with the 24-year-old.  “A taser was deployed by one of the officers and the man has fallen to the ground and received an injury to his neck,” the statement said.

On the day of his injury, police told the hospital’s emergency department staff that Mr Ratcliff had been running away with his head down.  He was tasered and head-butted the ground when he fell, resulting in the injuries.

They also told staff he may have been using drugs or alcohol, but Mr Ratcliff denies this. He said he had used drugs in the past but not on that day, and declared he “never had a criminal record”.

Mr Ratcliff has no feeling from the chest down and minimal movement in his arms. He breathes through a tracheotomy tube and requires 24-hour nursing care.  “I am grieving for my past life – it’s like losing someone; I have lost myself,” he said.

Lawyer John Hammond, who is acting for Mr Ratcliff, said he was investigating WA Police’s legal liability in relation to the incident.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Six Adelaide SAPOL police officers charged with theft, abuse of public office

POLICE will probe into the culture of the alleged offending of six officers arrested in the first major bust by the state’s new ICAC and its potential causes, Police Commissioner Gary Burns says.

Speaking outside the Police Association of SA annual delegates conference this morning, Mr Burns said a police department review of the Operation Mantle team where the officers worked would consider “the circumstances that may have fostered this type of behaviour to make sure it doesn’t happen again or in any other Mantle team”.

He said the seventh member of the team, a senior constable who has not faced charges, was also under investigation.

Mr Burns said the investigations of those officers, who have been suspended on full pay, may put cases they were working on under threat and also revealed the charges relating to property damage involved the destruction of potential police exhibits.

“That’s part of what we are looking at now — what the broader impact on policing is, in particular if these particular officers are involved in any arrests or reports that might be before the courts or going before the courts,” Mr Burns said.

He was unable to identify how many investigations it could affect.

Police Association of SA President Mark Carroll said the all members of the team are association members and should be considered innocent until proven guilty.  He said the association would be speaking with them over the coming days.

Earlier this morning, Mr Burns told 891 ABC radio the offending ranks as a “ten” on the scale of one to ten in its seriousness.

Despite considering the level of alleged corruption as low level, when asked on radio this morning to rank the seriousness of the alleged offending Mr Burns had no hesitation in putting it at the top of the scale.

“From a police department’s perspective I expect every police officer to act with honesty and integrity,” he told 891 ABC radio this morning.  “Talking to people within the department there’s quite a level of shock and horror about it.

“All I’m trying to say here is no form of corruption should be tolerated.  “From a police perspective this is something that really impacts on us particularly when it comes to public confidence.”

Mr Burns said he did not have a value of the goods allegedly taken by the officers charged.  He said while none of the goods could be considered high value there were greater issues at play for police.

“The issue for us is that these officers used their authority to enter premises to investigate drug offences and while they were doing that the allegation is that they took this type of equipment and they had no authority to do that,” he said.

Mr Burns agreed with the suggestion that prosecutors would allege the officers charged “got sticky fingers”.  “Yes, that’s right,” he said.

Mr Burns and Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander announced the officers, including a sergeant, were charged on Monday with abuse of public office and stealing items including alcohol and electronics.

Mr Burns conceded the arrests would damage the public impression of SA Police.  “The allegations are very disappointing,” Mr Burns told The Advertiser today.  “Obviously every police officer in South Australia ... will be concerned about this, because we work on reputation. “We need public confidence and public support.

“Any matter like this, where police officers are involved in criminality will always have an impact.” “It shouldn’t be seen as a reflection on the other 4500 police officers who go out and do their work on a daily basis to the best of their ability.”

He said a deeper probe of the Operation Mantle branch would be conducted.

The joint investigation was led by Mr Lander with assistance from SA Police’s Anti-Corruption Branch. The four men and two women will appear in court on December 19.

The six officers are part of a seven-person Operation Mantle drug squad operating from the Sturt police station. They include a sergeant, senior constables and constables:

 * A 53-year-old man from Darlington has been charged with abuse of public office and aggravated theft.

 * A 43-year-old man from Aberfoyle Park has been charged with two counts of abuse of public office, two counts of theft, and property damage.

 * A 38-year-old man from Woodcroft has been charged with two counts of abuse of public office, two counts of aggravated theft and property damage.

 * A 33-year-old man from Camden Park has been charged with abuse of public office and aggravated theft.

 * A 31-year-old woman from Sellicks Beach has been charged with abuse of public office, aggravated theft and property damage.

 * A 27-year-old woman from Woodcroft has been charged with abuse of public office and aggravated theft.

Mr Burns said “irregularities” were first raised with senior police in January and February this year.  The ICAC was then alerted, as required by legislation, including interviews with the one member not arrested and former staff in the unit.

“This is isolated to a small group,” Mr Burns insisted. “We’ll be looking at what opportunities they had that formed this little subculture that they operated.”

The six officers face a total of 18 charges including abuse of public office, aggravated theft and property damage. They range in age from 27 to 53.  The group is not accused of onselling the allegedly stolen property.

Mr Lander, a former Federal Court judge, said he took charge of the inquiry to ensure that a person independent of the police force was probing the allegations.

Mr Lander said the accused officers had “let down” the force but he remained impressed by the professionalism of Anti-Corruption Branch officers he had worked with.  “I thought it appropriate that somebody independent of SAPOL head the investigation because of the allegations that have been made,” Mr Lander said.

“I’m satisfied with the integrity of the Anti-Corruption Branch. “I think they would have still carried out the investigation even if I had not been occupying the position I did.”

Mr Lander said he was “disappointed” by both the allegations and evidence uncovered.

Mr Burns said Operation Mantle was dispatched to deal with “low level” drug dealing and street crime. There was “no indication” the officers had stolen drugs, he said.  “It’s mainly in the lower-category items. Liquor, tools, some electronics,” Mr Burns said.

“The arrests today don’t finalise the investigation. This investigation will be ongoing.”

SA became the last state in the nation to set up an ICAC when the new watchdog became operational in September last year. This is its first case to result in arrests.

Mr Lander has previously revealed he had referred some allegations for prosecution.

Premier Jay Weatherill said he was disappointed by the allegations but said the arrests vindicated his move to set up an ICAC after having claimed the Labor leadership.

“Of course it’s awful when we see these breaches in public trust,” he said. “The public should have confidence the ICAC is doing its work and, where it finds these instances of breaches of public integrity, it’s rooting them out and bringing people to justice.

“The truth is there are still people that engage in opportunistic episodes of corruption, and we’re seeing that revealed. “It’s a good thing though (that) before these things take hold and become institutionalised that they’re able to be searched for, found and the people that have had these breaches of public trust brought to justice.  “I’m confident that it’s an isolated instance.”

The officers have been suspended from duty pending court proceedings.

Last month, Mr Lander told The Advertiser he had referred a middle-ranking public servant to the Director of Public Prosecutions and was preparing other briefs.

He said one case under investigation related to the “conduct of a senior person in public administration’’ and local government was over-represented in complaints.

Of more than 900 complaints and reports made in the first year of the ICAC’s operation, less than 60 are under investigation for corruption-related offences after being assessed.

Mr Lander’s first report to State Parliament is expected to be tabled within weeks.