February 4th 2007
Police accountability - a reader's experience
Fall-out from the Mulrunji death in custody on Magnetic's neighbour, Palm Island, continues and, following calls by the Queensland Police Union to bring watch-houses up to standard so prisoners are monitored during their custodial periods, Townsville based Bill of Rights activist, Pat Coleman, in a submission to the Qld Government over police accountability, tells a chilling tale of his own watch-house experience. He goes on to make some constructive criticism of the system and culture which, he believes, enabled this to happen and what might be done to fix it. (Ed)
It would seem that the Qld Police Union is being disingenuous about their call for all watchhouses to have video cameras. They know about how to get around this.
The fact that cameras are installed would neither change the culture, nor the tactics of the police. It would not change the way that investigations about police misconduct are led astray and perverted by the police themselves.
For some time now I have been in possession of documents and audiotapes relating to one of these so called investigations. I had made a complaint that after I had been arrested in early 2002, that I was left in cuffs for hours afterwards, in such a manner that they cut into my wrists, cutting the circulation, leaving me in such pain that I could not sit. That the only way I could keep myself from passing out with the pain was to pace the cell until such time that the only way I could keep myself from falling- was to stand with my forehead against the holding cell perspex . The police refused all demands to release me from the cuffs until I vomited (I was sober) and was about to pass out . The complaint was that they did this on purpose and that it was excessive force and akin to torture.
After I complained to the Crime & Misconduct Commission (CMC) this was referred to the Ethical Standards Command (ESC) for investigation. They tasked the Snr Sgt in charge of Townsville Police Station to conduct the interviews and gather any evidence, being the watchhouse tape.
The arresting officers and all police in the watchhouse at the time were interviewed, as well as myself. This generated audiotapes of those interviews.
After a number of months I received a letter from the ESC and also the CMC stating that my complaint had basically been dismissed.
I then FOI'd (Freedom of Information) the ESC and CMC and was both amazed and shocked, but not surprised about how they could come to such a conclusion.
What occurred was the following: after the interviews and the video tape was viewed, the Snr Sgt simply made only a few transcripts to go with his report to the ESC Assessment Committee (review panel). Neither the audiotapes nor the video were sent or overviewed. The video tape register shows that it was placed back into the watchhouse to be recorded over before the decision was given in the matter, so was unobtainable through FOI .
The officers interviewed all closed ranks bar one and one even made up a story that I was banging my head against the wall. This was dismissed as obviously untrue by the Snr Sgt . However, the one cop who backed me up also said that it was excessive and should not have been done.
No transcript of this particular interview was produced.
It took some time to go through the FOI process and assess the documents and tapes. The CMC Act states that there is a 1 year time limit for any prosecutions for lying in such investigations.
The FOI from the CMC only turned up my complaint and the letters from the ESC. It was the FOI of the ESC and police station that turned up the tapes, documents and the register.
The FOI showed that there was a failure of oversight by both the ESC Assessment Committee and the CMC which did none and simply accepted the police version of events.
It is my view that the ESC is worthless and suggest the following: