Thursday, September 26, 2013

Officer guilty of assault over police baton use

A South Australian police officer has been found guilty of aggravated assault for repeatedly striking a man with his baton during an arrest.

The Police Ombudsman has ruled the officer fabricated evidence about the case with the intention of influencing legal proceedings.

The case was revealed in the Police Ombudsman's annual report, which said the officer was reported by colleagues who witnessed the assault on closed-circuit TV and saw no threat to the officer from a man who was face down on the ground.

The officer resigned from the force before the Police Disciplinary Tribunal could finalise the charges against him.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Police allegedly break student's leg over ticket

A group of police officers broke the leg of an arts student and told her "we don't care if it's legal" after she was caught without a train ticket, a court has been told.

Rachel Gardner is suing the NSW police force claiming she was assaulted, sat on, handcuffed, pushed against a fence, loaded into a paddy wagon and then dumped at a nearby train station without charge on March 13, 2011.

Police initially denied the kick occurred but sought to amend their defence in the Sydney District Court on Monday after it emerged Ms Gardner's legal team had obtained CCTV footage from Cronulla station.

Ms Gardner, 36, was at the station with two tourist friends just before midnight when they were approached by transit officers and found to be without tickets.

An altercation ensued when the tourists couldn't produce identification and police attended. Ms Gardner claims that when she protested that one of the tourists was being pinned to the ground by a transit officer, Acting Sergeant Craig Sands kicked both her legs out from under her, breaking her right leg.

In her statement of claim, it is alleged Sergeant Sands then directed a transit officer to sit on her while she was lying face down on the platform before she was handcuffed, told she was under arrest and put in a paddy wagon.

When she objected to what she believed was an unlawful arrest, an officer said "we don't care if this is legal", the statement said. Ms Gardner was not taken to a police station and charged. Instead, she was driven to Sutherland railway station and "left to fend for herself in a seriously injured condition".

She is seeking damages of up to $750,000 for the injuries as well as the humiliation, disgrace, mental suffering, emotional distress, fear and anxiety, loss of social status and inconvenience caused by assault, false arrest and false imprisonment. A doctor's report says she will likely develop osteoarthritis within five to 10 years.

Her aspirations to become a filmmaker would also be hindered as well as attempts to get casual work while studying fine arts at the University of NSW College of Fine Arts, the court heard. Barrister Geoffrey Petty, SC, said the only record of the incident was a standard internal log that was "brief in the extreme". He said CCTV footage showed the kick "as plain as daylight" and also showed the officers chatting on the station as Ms Gardner limped away.

The police initially denied all Ms Gardner's claims and said she bit and kicked officers, however barrister Matthew Hastings sought to file a new defence document that Judge Sharron Norton noted was "entirely different" to the one submitted before the footage emerged.

Mr Hastings said Ms Gardner's statement of claim was so vague it hindered their initial investigation. The hearing resumes on Tuesday.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Qld. cyclist hit by car alleges "imaginary" police interview

The video starts off like any other typical workday ride.

A cyclist is riding along the road, glancing over his shoulder to check on other vehicles, when a white jeep flashes past.

Suddenly, the car's side mirror knocks him from his bike, sending him tumbling to the ground at high speed. As the camera comes to rest, you can hear the cyclist's screams of agony. His upper leg has been shattered.

This video is gaining traction on social media after being posted by the Brisbane cyclist who claims Queensland police fabricated his testimony on the official crash report, in the course of fining the driver of the car one demerit point for "following too closely".

It comes to light at a time when cycling advocacy groups are renewing a national campaign for a minimum passing distance law, following the death of cyclist Richard Pollett in similar circumstances.

Craig Cowled, 38, who lost 1.5 litres of blood while spending seven hours in surgery, remembers the events leading up to the incident clearly, including an early premonition of danger.
Brisbane cyclist Craig Cowled, whose leg was shattered when he was hit by a car.

Brisbane cyclist Craig Cowled, whose leg was shattered when he was hit by a car. Photo: Fairfax Media

"As I was approaching a set of lights ... a white car came very close to me," Mr Cowled said. "It unnerved me a little but sometimes you shrug off these close passes and move on."

Mr Cowled said he started off again, "really putting my head down", taking a legal position in the middle of the left lane and staying out of a turning lane while constantly doing "head checks" over his shoulder for following cars.

"It came as a real surprise to me when this [white] car moved into my field of vision and suddenly I was hit. The bike went out from underneath and I slammed down onto the road."
A detail from an X-ray following surgery to repair Mr Cowled's shattered femur.

A detail from an X-ray following surgery to repair Mr Cowled's shattered femur.

Although he was in tremendous pain at the time of the incident, he clearly recalls passers-by creating a safe space around him and the speedy arrival of an ambulance. The police arrived and took a statement from the driver of the vehicle that had hit him, but Mr Cowled says he was rushed to hospital without speaking to them.

"I had a compound fracture right through my femur - the thigh bone, the biggest bone in your body - it was fractured clean through," he says.

He praised the "amazing" skills of the medical staff at the Royal Brisbane Hospital who inserted a titanium rod through the length of the bone, and reattached his leg to his hip joint.

While he was in hospital, a police officer visited but he was in treatment. He was later told the officer had merely come to tell him the location of his bicycle, which had been damaged in the crash.

When he was released from hospital almost a week later, Mr Cowled called police to give a statement and show them his video footage of the incident.

In a letter he delivered on Friday to the office of the Queensland Commissioner of Police, Ian Stewart, Mr Cowled details what happened next.

After leaving several messages and getting no reply, he eventually made contact.

"The officer advised me that I was not required to make a statement as the matter had been finalised," he writes. "I was very surprised and asked several times, why not?"

Mr Cowled said he was told that the driver been charged with a traffic offence. The officer would not tell him what the charge was, but told him that he should be happy that police had found 100 per cent in his favour, which would help to facilitate his personal injury claim.

A few weeks later Mr Cowled received a copy of the police report via his solicitor.

He was amazed to find that a statement had been filled in on his behalf, in first person speech. Inaccuracies included an entry that he had been cycling for recreation - he was in fact en route to work. Much of the statement attributed to him contains the same information as the statement given by the motorist who hit him. It ends by saying: "I have been struck by a vehicle on my right. I have then hit the bitumen and was instantly in pain."

The driver’s statement in the report said he had seen the cyclist up ahead, and had noticed him when nearly overtaking him at the earlier intersection. The driver said he was "trying to go around [the cyclist] in the lane" and "his bike has clipped the car".

The report concludes that the driver of the vehicle "has seen a bicycle up ahead and attempted to overtake ... and not left enough space", thereby causing a collision. This was judged as requiring a fine of "follow too closely", with the recommendation that "no further action be taken".

"In all honesty, I feel I have been brushed aside on this issue," said Mr Cowled, a PhD candidate with three sons under the age of six. "It’s galling."

He has sought legal advice, and hopes that his letter to the Commissioner will spark an investigation into police handling of the matter.

Police told Fairfax Media on Monday afternoon the matter was the subject of an internal inquiry.

"The Queensland Police Service is currently making inquiries in relation to allegations that have been raised to the police handling of an investigation where a cyclist was injured on Kingsford Smith Drive," police said in a statement.

"Those allegations have been forwarded to the Ethical Standards Command and this matter is now the subject of an internal inquiry."

Mr Cowled has been told it may take a year for him to recover full mobility, and there is a chance he will need a hip replacement. Six weeks later, he is still taking strong medication to manage constant pain.

The incident has come at a time when cycling advocacy organisations are campaigning for states to adopt laws that enforce a minimum distance for cars passing bicycles.

Sean Sampson of the Amy Gillett Foundation, which is campaigning under the slogan "a metre matters", said: "This incident highlights the need for change to create a safer environment for bicycle riders, the type of behavioural and legislative change that can be delivered through the introduction of minimum passing distance laws."

After months of public hearings and requests for submissions, a government inquiry into cycling in Queensland was completed last week. It is due to deliver its findings on November 29.

The inquiry follows a court case over the death of Mr Pollett, a virtuoso violinist, who was run over by a truck while cycling on Brisbane's Moggill Road in September 2011. In May this year, a jury found the truck driver was not guilty of any offence under the available laws.

Police guilty of misconduct, now facing criminal charges

Hill and Mewing

Six northern NSW police officers are facing possible criminal charges and dismissal from the force after the Police Integrity Commission found they used excessive force against a young Aboriginal man at Ballina police station and then falsely claimed he had assaulted them.

In scathing findings tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, the commission criticised the officers involved in the January 2011 incident, finding them guilty of serious police misconduct and recommending a range of charges including assault, perjury and giving false evidence.

The incident began when Aboriginal man, Corey Barker, then 21, was arrested on Tamar Street, Ballina, for trying to obstruct police, and taken to the local police station.

The police officers involved claimed that when they attempted to move Mr Barker to a different cell he assaulted Senior Constable David Hill, punching him in the face.

However, the commission found that CCTV footage revealed there was no assault.

Rather, the commission found, the footage showed Mr Barker being slammed into a wall and a large metal object in the station's charge room by the officers, before they dragged him backwards by the arms along the ground into a cell.

Six of the officers who were either involved in the altercation or witnessed it, subsequently signed sworn statements accusing Mr Barker of assaulting police, statements which they then backed up with sworn evidence in court.

The case was thrown out by Ballina Local Court Magistrate David Heilpern, who referred the police's actions to the commission.

All of the officers – Senior Constable Hill, Constable Lee Walmsley, Constable Ryan Eckersley, Constable Luke Mewing, Senior Constable Mark Woolvern, and Robert McCubbin (now discharged) – conceded in the commission that the footage did not show any punch by Mr Barker.

Senior Constable Hill continued to maintain he was struck, a claim which the commission found "cannot be given any credence".

"Barker did not assault Hill in the Ballina Police Station on the night of 14 January 2011 and, in particular, did not punch, or even attempt to punch, Hill on the nose or face," the Commissioner, Bruce James, QC, said.

He found there was "no justification for the degree of force to which Barker was subjected".

"The police treatment of Barker can fairly be described as violent ... [the] method of taking Barker to the cell would have been acutely painful and was brutal."

Previous allegations that two of the officers kicked Mr Barker were not upheld.

The commissioner found that Senior Constable Hill was a witness "of little credibility", and he and the other five officers had lied in their statements and in court.

The commission recommended Senior Constable Hill, Constable Walmsley, Constable Mewing, Senior Constable Mark Woolvern, and Constable Eckersley be considered for charges of assault, and that all but Constable Eckersley also be considered for charges of perjury.

It recommended that the NSW Police Commissioner consider dismissing or alternatively demoting all six officers.

The officer in charge of investigating the fabricated assault on Senior Constable Hill, Senior Constable Gregory Ryan was cleared of any wrongdoing, as was another officer involved in the arrest, Senior Constable Kelly Haines.