Saturday, March 27, 2021

Gross police abuse of their powers

Police officers have been accused of deliberately intimating a lawyer on his way to court and scaring him so badly he fled through the Magistrate's exit. 

The solicitor had been on his way to represent an outlaw motorcycle gang member in a case against NSW Police Strike Force Raptor - the elite bikie-fighting unit. The lawyer was so shaken that the hearing was adjourned.

The abuse of power was detailed in the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission's report which was made public late on Friday.   

The lawyer, a principal in his own criminal law firm, first noticed a police car driving past his house at 6.30am on May 28, 2019 - the day he was due in court to represent the bikie against Strike Force Raptor, the report said.  

Being on good terms with local police in his country town, he waved - but they didn't wave back. 

At 7am he reversed out of his driveway onto the empty street and noticed police were following him.

They pulled him over less than 10 minutes away at a nearby Beaurepaires tyre shop, and identified themselves as being from Strike Force Raptor.

The Raptor officers asked for his drivers license - which he had forgotten. 

On his way home to get his ID, the Raptor officers stopped him again to conduct a 'roadworthiness check' on his vehicle.

They repeatedly pulled the front seatbelt before claiming it was not retracting.

They then opened the bonnet and told him they could see an oil leak, then defected him for oil leaks, seat belt defects and window tinting, forcing him to walk home in his socks and thongs.

Rattled, he took a taxi to work - but the police followed his taxi, checking it after he arrived at work with their flashing lights on, the report said.

At 8.30am, his client arrived, telling him the police were 'doing laps' outside his office. This worried the lawyer so much he took a back exit from his office to a solicitor friend who rang the regular police - but they said they could not do anything.

He was so shaken that when he appeared before the Magistrate to represent his client against Strike Force Raptor, she adjourned the matter.

When he left the courtroom, five to 10 Strike Force Raptor officers were waiting.

This intimidated the lawyer so much he fled the court by the Magistrate's private exit, with her permission.

He then told his client that he should not represent him anymore - and the client hired another lawyer, the report said. 

Integrity Commissioner Lea Drake found that a senior Strike Force Raptor officer had ordered two other officers to 'target, interact and harass' the lawyer so that he did not make it to court, and also intimidated his female friend.

The Commissioner found that the officers' conduct towards the lawyer was 'disgraceful', inventing breaches in order to target him.

'When misused, targeting can create a hostile relationship between the police and citizens who would otherwise have no animosity towards the police,' the Commissioner wrote.

'The Commission is concerned about the sense of entitlement that can develop in an elite strike force and was demonstrated by this conduct.

'Such limited strategies can become unrestrained and unlawful. If you are an elite, are you bound by the rule of law and the policies of the NSW Police Force or are you bigger, better, harder and more entitled? 

'The task of these officers is to enforce the law. If the unlawful conduct engaged in by these officers is allowed to continue and be condoned because of some imagined higher purpose, there can be no good to come from it for the people of New South Wales.'

The Commissioner wrote that while Strike Force Raptor had been successful in disrupting  criminal activity, it could not be allowed to harass people.

'However, unlawful conduct must not be condoned or covered up.' 

Greens MP David Shoebridge was beside himself on reading the report and slammed the conduct within it late on Friday, summing up the story in an outraged Twitter thread.

'Lawless,' he wrote. 

'This is seriously lawless behaviour by a number of police acting in concert and it’s close to unbelievable .... We (will) not leave it here I can assure you. Seriously unbelievable.'

A spokesman for NSW Police said the release of the report had been 'noted' and its contents and recommendations would be 'considered'.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Aboriginal distrust of the police

Aborigines have a lot of contact with the police because they commit a lot of crimes.  Those encounters often end up badly so there are calls for the police to "do something" about that. 

They seem to overlook that they have in their own hands an excellent way to improve their relationships with the police:  Stop committing crimes.  Their high rate of criminality -- particularly among young Aborigines -- is bound to create dislike of them among the police and that will show, one way or another

"They don't like me, and I don't like them".

In one simple sentence, a young man laid bare his experience of the often fraught relationship between Indigenous children and police.

His words weren't said in a casual conversation on the street but in a courtroom — and that scathing statement is forming part of a high-profile coronial investigation.

Three years ago, when that young man was 17, he watched his two friends drown in front of him while they were all trying to escape from the police.

A group of youths ran into Perth's Swan River trying to outrun two police officers pursuing them after a nearby break and enter.

This week, that young man was forced to relive those traumatic moments for the coronial inquest into their deaths in Perth. His anger was palpable, his distrust of authorities clear.

The man, who for legal reasons was referred to only as "P", watched footage showing the police officers entering a powerful, wide stretch of the Swan River in a rescue attempt.

His response to the video of tactical response officers in the water was blunt: "He [the officer] could've gone in sooner."

The young man's words made it clear that he was unconvinced any police officer might try to save the life of someone from his community.

The coroner will eventually make recommendations about how to heal this relationship between the community and the police and ways to avoid such tragic deaths, but for the families involved it will never be enough.

If you can't understand that young man's anger and distrust, let me try to explain.

It's not just him, but his immediate circle and the broader Indigenous community who are angry that their people are still dying this way, despite decades-long calls for change.

In the past month alone, there have been several painful reminders for Indigenous Australians that reinforce their beliefs they can't always trust the state to keep them safe.

This month, there were three deaths in custody within weeks of each other, 30 years on from the royal commission that handed down 339 recommendations to stop this from happening.

Just months ago, tens of thousands of Australians took to the streets in Black Lives Matter protests, calling on the nation's leaders to change the record on Indigenous deaths in custody.

The most recent deaths were compounded by the bruising findings of a separate coronial inquest handed down this month into the 2018 death of Anaiwan-Dunghutti man Nathan Reynolds in a Sydney jail.

The coroner concluded that he died from an asthma attack but that the prison's health response was "confused, uncoordinated and unreasonably delayed."

Put simply, the state "deprived him of any chance at survival", the coroner said.

These recent deaths show us what lessons have been lost with the passing of time.

For years, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody made national headlines, led news bulletins, exposed a nation's cultural and legal shortcomings.

The hope was that the findings in 1991 could heal the fractured relationship between the Indigenous community and the authorities they had learnt not to trust.

But recent weeks have shown that many of those lessons of honesty, transparency and accountability have faded, along with the hope of meaningful change.

Report after report investigates Indigenous over-incarceration, the causes and solutions repeated time after time — yet the situation does not improve and the community's trust erodes.

Since that royal commission, there's been an explosion in the number of Indigenous Australians locked up.

Back then they made up 14 per cent of prisoners, now it's almost 30 per cent.

Despite some moves to make prisons and police cells safer, there have been hundreds of Indigenous deaths in custody since that report was handed down three decades ago next month.

Two of the most recent deaths that happened in recent weeks were only made public under intense questioning in a parliamentary estimates session.

The New South Wales Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin defended the move to keep them private, but for the Indigenous community, the secrecy was salt in an old wound.

It was a reminder that after all these years the relationship hasn't changed.

Again, for the community, it was a reason not to trust; a reason to be angry.

'Soul-crushing' search for justice for families
Waiting for months or years to hear about the last moments of your loved ones has become a well-worn path for Indigenous families relying on the coronial process to deliver the truth.

The result can be "soul-crushing", according to Taleah Reynolds, who has lived through this harsh reality during the coronial inquest into her sibling's death.

Her 36-year-old brother Nathan died in his prison cell, just one week before he was expected to be released.

The coroner's report this month found "numerous system deficiencies and individual errors of judgment" contributed to the death and provided her family with little comfort.

"This can't just be treated as an accident — it must be recognised as a huge institutional failing and people must be held responsible," Ms Reynolds said outside court at the time.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Compensation sought from cops over baseless prosecution

The power to prosecute can have big effects so must be used cautiously. This did not happen below

A lawyer for a North Queensland pilot said they are considering suing the Queensland Police for hundreds of thousands of dollars he claims his client has lost because of a botched trial.

Resolute Legal principal lawyer Michael Spearman said his client, Josh Hoch, deserved to be compensated for a “monumental loss” after his plane tampering trial was thrown out six days in because there wasn’t enough evidence.

Hoch was charged with 342 offences in January, 2017 following a multi-agency investigation into the alleged tampering of aircraft at Mount Isa Airport.

The investigation into nine of the plane tampering and associate sabotage charges reached Mount Isa District Court last week.

The process from the start of the investigation to the court date last week, took five years.

The trial, which was due to run for three weeks, came to an abrupt end on Monday when the Crown prosecution pulled the pin on their case due to a lack of evidence.

Justice John Henry said the evidence pinning Hoch to the alleged crimes was lacking. “There was no sighting of him in the relevant area at the relevant time to the exclusion of other possible contenders to say he must have done it,” Justice Henry said at court.

Mr Spearman said it was “abundantly clear” the matter should never have made it to court. “The passage of five years simply demonstrates that the charges were never a proper case for criminal prosecution,” he said.

Mr Spearman said his client had suffered “significant damage” to his work and personal life, had lost his career and business and was left hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket.

Mr Spearman said he is researching the prospect of taking legal action against the Queensland Police Service to compensate his client. “After suffering such monumental loss on a case that should never have made it to court, who compensates Mr Hoch?” Mr Spearman said.

The initial charges arose in October, 2016, when another pilot reported damage to his plane for the second time in a year.

The other pilot, from Macquarie Pilot Centre, claimed three of his planes had been tampered with, by having a contaminant poured into the fuel tanks of the aircraft.

When the engines fired, the contaminant caused ¬catastrophic damage to the ¬aircraft, grounding the planes for months.