Thursday, October 25, 2012

Foot-dragging over thug W.A. cops

The instinct to protect cops clashes with the evidence so the result is indecision and buck-passing all round

WA Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan gave evidence at a parliamentary hearing on how the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) handled allegations of police misconduct. Pic WILKINS DANIEL Source: PerthNow

WEST Australian Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan is concerned that the futures of the police officers involved in the infamous Kevin Spratt tasering incident are still unclear four years after it happened.

Mr Spratt was tasered in August 2008 by senior constables Troy Tomlin and Aaron Strahan after he refused a strip search.

CCTV footage of the tasering caused public outrage and demands that the officers involved be charged, but no charges have been laid.

Mr O'Callaghan and Assistant Commissioner of Professional Standards Dominic Staltari gave evidence on Wednesday at a parliamentary hearing on how the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) handled allegations of police misconduct such as the Spratt incident.

Mr Staltari said a draft CCC report had labelled the police investigation into the Spratt matter as "thorough and balanced'' but such remarks were taken out of the final report.

He said the CCC took 18 months to finalise its report into the matter.

Police had originally referred the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on October 11, 2010, but a month later the CCC decided to do its own investigation.

The matter has now been referred back to police via the DPP, and Mr Staltari said police would decide soon what to do next.

Mr O'Callaghan showed frustration at how long the probe had taken.

"We're not one step in front of where we were,'' he said.

Mr Staltari said the CCC was able to lay charges against police officers but had instead "handballed'' the matter back to the DPP for "serious consideration''.

Mr O'Callaghan said that was ``bizarre'' because the CCC had reached the same conclusion that the police originally had.

He said any complaints against an officer went first to police and the CCC was also informed.

"If you make a complaint to me, the CCC will know about it,'' Mr O'Callaghan said.

Mr Staltari said if the CCC made a finding of misconduct, the commissioner could not do anything with its report - he would have to order a separate police investigation.

He said he had previously suggested a "liaison meeting'' with the CCC but was told it would not look good for the CCC to appear to be "in bed'' with police and it needed to be independent.

However, 18 months later the CCC had made the same suggestion to him, which he welcomed.

The hearing heard that low-level complaints about police were usually investigated within 30 days while matters that required a more fully assessable investigation could take up to 60 days.

Mr O'Callaghan said the most serious cases should not take more than six months to investigate.

Mr Staltari said he would be concerned if any matter at internal affairs took more than three months and it would prompt him to intercede.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Bullying, racism and sexism claims rock WA police

A KEY unit of WA Police is in turmoil after 11 workers accused three of their superiors of systemic bullying.

The present and former staff documented serious allegations stretching over two years, including inappropriate touching, lewd sexual remarks, anti-gay sentiment and racism against one woman boss.

But a spokeswoman for Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan said a secret investigation into the allegations had cleared the superiors and found the accusations, outlined in a confidential 39-page document, were possibly "vexatious and mischievous".

The complaints, lodged by a third of the unit's workforce allege bullying, including verbal abuse and public beratings by a male boss, as well as unjustified criticism and claims of "impossible deadlines" and "insufficient time frames" to complete work.

One of the female superiors was accused of inappropriate sexual conduct towards a male employee, gay discrimination and improper racial comments. The allegations included she:

1. Instructed another worker not to hire a homosexual because, having worked with gays before, she found them "precious".

2. She was wearing a Looney Tunes Tweety Bird T-shirt when "she pulled the shirt from her body at the nipple area and lent forward moving the shirt and making tweeting sounds".

3. She groped her breasts through her clothing in the office and inappropriately drew attention to her breasts by picking up a toy spider from a complainant's desk and asking if it looked good on her chest.

4. She massaged a male worker's shoulders when he had asked her not to.

Staff alleged the same woman boss made comments with racist connotations during the organisation of an event in March.

The grievance states that: "(She) advised (three employees) that Mirrabooka is where 'all those people with colourful scarfs on their head live'." The employees understood the "scarfs" to mean head scarfs worn by Islamic women.

And it was claimed she "made a point of telling the recruits standing out the front to watch her car 'because of the area we're in', informed us that she would have to lock her doors when driving through the area to get to the venue", and said she would never employ someone from Mirrabooka.

Five employees who were not part of the action claimed to have either witnessed bullying of the complainants, the effects of the bullying or were concerned about the level of bullying in the workplace.

For legal reasons, The Sunday Times has not named the three superiors at the centre of the allegations, or the police unit they work for. WA Police commissioned private investigation firm Australia Wide Investigations to conduct an independent probe into the allegations.

Its report was forwarded to the force's human resources department two Fridays ago.

The Commissioner's spokeswoman confirmed the force had received the report on Tuesday and was considering its findings.

She said she had been advised that the report found that none of the accused officers "acted in a manner that contravenes any legislative or regulatory requirement in respect of their management practices".

And she said the investigator found on allegations of "inappropriate behaviour of a sexual nature" that there was "insufficient evidence to conclude that any officer had acted in a manner alleged and it is possible that these allegations are vexatious and mischievous".

She said two employees had withdrawn their complaints and an assessment showed there was insufficient cause to progress the matters raised against one of the managers.

She said the report would not be made public.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Heartless South Australian goons

THE shooting death of a Clare woman and the prosecution of her grieving husband for firearms offences, will be the subject of a high-level SA Police internal inquiry.

John and Julie Taylor's 20-year marriage ended in tragedy when she was accused of embezzlement and took her own life.

Police then charged John with allowing his wife to access the couple's .22 calibre handguns - despite both of them being licensed pistol shooters.

Although that charge has since been dropped, police are now conducting an internal review of their dealings with the Taylors.

The incident has also concerned mental health experts.

SANE Australia deputy chief executive Paul Morgan said police could have conducted themselves more sympathetically.  "I understand police have a very tough job to do but ... there must be compassion," he said.

"Police, doctors and anyone else dealing with those close to a suicide must be aware of the ripple effect these traumatic events have.  "Those left behind are more vulnerable to take their own lives, and so police must take into account their support needs."

Mrs Taylor, 42, served as secretary of the Clare Dog Obedience Club until June this year, when she was accused of defrauding $6000.  After speaking with police, she underwent mental health evaluation at Clare Hospital and was discharged.

On June 27, she fatally shot herself with a .22 calibre handgun registered in John Taylor's name.

Police subsequently alleged that Taylor, 59, had wrongfully allowed his wife access to the gun safe's keys and failed to secure the ammunition box with a padlock.

Last week, Taylor faced the Elizabeth Magistrates Court.  In a letter to magistrate Joanne Tracey, he said he and his wife were licensed pistol shooters.  "Julie was my wife, we had no secrets between us and we had a happy marriage," the letter said.

"Now I am being prosecuted because I told my own wife where the gun safe key was kept."

Ms Tracey questioned whether the charges were appropriate, and prosecutors agreed to withdraw the handguns count.

Taylor pleaded guilty to failing to use a padlock on the ammunition box, but was convicted without penalty.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

NSW police coverup must end

The NSW police Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn this week becomes responsible for specialist operations, putting her in charge of squads such as homicide, counterterrorism and professional standards - which used to be known as Special Crime and Internal Affairs (SCIA).

This move places her in a powerful position to succeed the Commissioner, Andrew Scipione. But it also puts Burn in an invidious, if not untenable, position.

Serious unanswered questions relating to her time in the controversial SCIA unit more than a decade ago remain. Indeed, as revealed in The Sun-Herald, a secret NSW police report states Burn "may have participated in police corruption" while she worked there.

So how is it that Burn is now installed as the head of internal affairs and in charge of the state's most experienced and senior detectives with such serious claims still unresolved?

The report, by Strike Force Emblems, written in 2004, examined complaints against Burn and three other SCIA officers who were involved in an undercover operation on the north coast.

It said there was no evidence to bring criminal or disciplinary charges against her or the others and the Herald does not suggest Burn is corrupt. But, critically, the report also states its inquiries hit a roadblock when it was denied access to crucial documents and witnesses.

This was because, at the time, SCIA was running a covert inquiry into police corruption code-named Operation Mascot and, as a result of the NSW Crime Commission's involvement, the highest secrecy provisions applied.

When Emblems detectives investigating Burn went knocking on the crime commission's Kent Street door for help, it rolled down the shutters.

Scipione says he has not read the Emblems report because of the secrecy provisions. Why a report written by NSW police for the then commissioner, Ken Moroney, is secret from the current commissioner remains a mystery. Nevertheless Scipione, like Sergeant Schultz from Hogan's Heroes, knows nothing.

But leaked documents reveal that Scipione received an email in November 2001, explicitly warning him that some officers within SCIA were worried about the legality of telephone taps and the release of "fictitious information" to obtain listening devices. There were other serious concerns about wrongdoing. Scipione was SCIA's commander at the time.

Some of those concerns expressed in 2001 were followed up by the Emblems investigators. Its report found that "criminal conduct" and personal vendettas may have been behind one particular SCIA/crime commission bugging operation in September 2000.

On September 14 that year, Justice Virginia Bell of the Supreme Court approved an application for a listening device. It allowed SCIA and the crime commission to bug a staggering 114 people over a 21-day period.

There is another problem that arises in all this. Ms Burn must now work alongside senior commanders who, just 10 years ago, she nominated as being corrupt. Ticklish, to say the least.

Scipione, Burn and the state government have refused calls for an independent judicial inquiry. The matters, they say, are being looked into by the Inspector of the Police Integrity Commission, David Levine, a former Supreme Court judge.

At best, this is disingenuous. Levine has told Parliament he is looking at whether Emblems' report, or its recommendations, can be released. When this reporter asked him if he was only working one day a week as Inspector of the Police Integrity Commission, he declined to comment.

Levine does not have the time or resources to explore and resolve the serious matters raised by Emblems, including those involving Burn.

It appears the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, is being poorly advised. This matter has been going for 10 years and it will not go away.

A judicial inquiry is needed. The serving and former police affected deserve the truth and so do the people of NSW.


Corruption and coverup in the Victoria police again

A SENIOR Victoria Police investigator has told victims of a suspected Catholic paedophile of his "grave" concerns that his investigation into their alleged abuser is being derailed and that "pro-church police members" may have interfered in his inquiry.

In a letter sent last month to one of the alleged victims of Brother Bernard Hartman - who is accused of raping several young Victorian children and teenagers in the 1970s - the police sergeant leading the investigation into Hartman says he was removed from the case after a complaint from a high-ranking Catholic official in the US, where Hartman is on the run.

He also accuses church officials in America of "actively hindering" his inquiry.

The 26-year veteran of the police force, whom The Age has decided not to name, was removed from the Hartman case by a more senior officer last month, only days after the sergeant initiated proceedings to have the Marianist brother extradited to Australia.

"I fail to see why anyone would move such a sensitive investigation from a very experienced investigator of 26 years to … [a person who will most likely be] a young inexperienced member. One can only speculate on the motive," the sergeant states in his letter to one of Hartman's victims.

"I know there are many 'pro-church' police members throughout our organisation and I hope [the senior US Catholic official] is not canvassing them and pulling strings to derail the investigation."

The sergeant says in his letter that he has a "grave concern" that someone in the church and "possibly the police force may be trying to stifle this investigation" as it nears completion. The officer also states that he is considering reporting the matter to the police watchdog, the Office of Police Integrity.

The letter identifies the church official who complained about the sergeant to the force's Ethical Standards Department as one of the Marianist order's most powerful US officials,

Brother Joseph Kamis. "I do not know exactly why [Kamis has complained], except perhaps to try to intimidate me in my determined pursuit of Hartman."

The letter also reveals that Hartman is refusing to co-operate with authorities, based on the advice of a lawyer who "has been less than co-operative and is actively hindering the investigation, seemingly on the instructions of the church".

"I believe this person [Hartman] needs to be brought to justice as soon as possible and these developments are of great concern."

In his letter to the victim, the sergeant also reveals his concerns about the church's "very long tentacles of influence".

Hartman, 73, is a former Melbourne-based Marianist brother who returned to his native United States after working in Catholic schools in Australia in the 1970s.

US law enforcement agencies were asked earlier this year by Victoria Police to arrest and question Hartman.

That request came after several more alleged victims and a witness came forward following a report by The Age in December that revealed Hartman's 1999 written admission to Melbourne woman, Mairead Ashcroft, whom he allegedly abused when she was aged between eight and 11 years old.

However, Hartman refused to answer questions.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati this year admitted Brother Hartman was performing clerical work in a job where he operated under a "safety plan" that ensured he had no contact with young people or vulnerable women.

The latest development comes after The Age revealed earlier this year that another senior police officer had written a confidential memo outlining his concerns about the way the Catholic Church has handled sexual abuse cases in Victoria.

Victoria Police declined to comment when contacted by The Age yesterday, while Brother Kamis could not be reached.