NSW police officer laughed while touching nipple of 15 year-old Aboriginal boy restrained on ambulance stretcher: watchdog report - Hack - triple j

2022-04-25 09:45:39 By : Mr. peter pan

The report described the behaviour as “disgraceful”, noting that it had no regard for the feelings of the 15-year-old.

A NSW police watchdog investigation has found serious misconduct in the actions of an officer who inappropriately touched an Aboriginal boy while he received medical treatment in February 2021.

The report, tabled in parliament today, includes a finding that the officer made a "turkey gobbler noise" while the boy was restrained on an ambulance stretcher.

According to the report, he was being transported to hospital because of mental health and self-harm concerns.

The officer then touched the 15-year-old's stomach and exposed left nipple, while laughing.

At the time, the boy's head was covered by a towel or blanket.

CCTV footage showed other officers on the scene also laughing at the behaviour.

In its findings, the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission described the conduct as "disgraceful", noting that it had no regard for the feelings of the boy or acknowledged that he was "just that, a child."

"This type of conduct is not only likely to affect the attitude of the particular young person towards the police, but carries the risk of damaging the relationship of the police with the local Aboriginal community," it said.

The report noted that the boy lived in difficult circumstances and was regularly in trouble with the police.

"He is unlikely to forget the unsympathetic way in which he was treated and his relationship with the police is probably incapable of rehabilitation," the report's authors said.

It acknowledged the stress of working in such conditions, and that sometimes "heedless jocularity" arises while policing.

But it noted officers had an obligation to behave sensitively and responsibly, particularly when dealing with children.

The Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT), who submitted the complaint on behalf of the 15-year-old, responded to today's findings by calling for the officer who touched the boy's nipple to face criminal charges.

"This man did not protect and serve. He is not fit to be a police officer nor to be in any position of power over others, let alone children. Together with our client, we expect the officer to be terminated from the police force immediately, and for criminal charges to follow," said Karly Warner, CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service.

Ms Warner said the behaviour was "cruel and dehumanising", and the response from other officers who laughed "demonstrates an even bigger problem in the culture of NSW Police,"

"When this is the way Aboriginal children are treated by police, it's no wonder there is a lack of trust in the community. Some police officers and many community leaders have worked long and hard seeking to build that trust, but this behaviour from NSW police erodes that opportunity," Ms Warner said.

The incident occured in February 2021, when the 15-year-old was in custody.

An ambulance was called after reports he had attempted self-harm in his cell.

Evidence given by police and a paramedic on the scene described his behaviour as aggressive and non-compliant, and may have involved attempts to spit at the officers.

As he was being taken from his cell, he begged not to be restrained or sedated.

He was given three shots of sedatives and mechanically restrained to an ambulance trolley, with belts across his waist, wrists and ankles.

While on the stretcher, a blanket or towel was placed over his head, which officers said was to prevent him from spitting on them.

While his face was covered, the report notes one officer made "an offensive and demeaning, silly turkey gobbler noise" and inappropriately touched the boy's stomach and nipple.

The officers on the scene laughed, and one gave evidence that he said something funny to "lighten the mood".

According to the report, when asked why he felt it was necessarily to lighten the mood, he said:

"Because it was tense. I just - everyone was sort of a bit heated. I just thought it was necessary to lighten the mood."

The officers who laughed conceded to investigators it was inappropriate conduct.

The investigation also examined allegations of unreasonable force used by another officer, who was seen in CCTV footage grabbing the 15-year-old by the throat before he was taken to hospital.

The officer gave evidence that he thought the boy had been about to spit on him.

The watchdog found that this was a reasonable response to prevent being further spat on, and that placing a towel over his head could be understood as practical, if not particularly safe.

The findings also noted that the boy's conduct was "bad", that he spat "continuously", and that it was a difficult situation for the officers.

"However, there was nothing amusing about it. His situation was, if anything, tragic."

The 15-year-old subsequently was charged with assault on police, but the charge was later dismissed in court.

The report said it wasn't clear why he'd been charged, because he was "skinny" and "ineffective" as an aggressor. Given his mental and physical state, it was "highly unlikely that it could have had the necessary intention".

The investigation recommended considering non-reviewable actions against the officer involved in the serious misconduct, which could involve a reduction in rank, grade, salary or seniority.

No other findings of serious misconduct were made against the other officers but it was recommended they undergo further training and counselling.