HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [5.32 pm]: Before we rose for the winter break, there was a quite disturbing article in The Guardian, which I am not sure members have seen. It is entitled “WA police officer escaped sanction for ‘shocking’ force against Indigenous boy”. I seek leave to table a copy of the article for members who may not have seen it.
Leave granted. [See paper 4143 - The Guardian newspaper article titled WA Police Officer escaped sanction for shocking force against indigenous boy ]
Hon ALISON XAMON: Members will get an opportunity to read the article. It is about an incident that took place outside the Perth train station in the early hours of 7 July 2018. The online copy of this article includes video excerpts from closed-circuit television footage that I found particularly disturbing and confronting. It effectively shows a handcuffed teenager being violently dragged to the ground by a police officer, which causes the teenage boy to brutally hit his head on the concrete. That officer was not alone; six other police were seen at different times in the footage. Although the video accompanying the article is only about a minute and a half long, the article reports what happened later. It reports that the officer used his arm to press the boy’s face into the pavement and a second officer then pulled the boy’s leg up behind his body and also leant on him. The boy remained pinned on the ground while handcuffed for about five minutes. There was a witness to this particular incident who heard the boy cry out in pain. They can be seen in the footage approaching and speaking to the police. According to the article, that witness was subsequently arrested for obstructing police and refusing to provide identification. Fortunately, she chose to plead not guilty and was reportedly shocked when the statements of three police officers from the scene all claimed that she had refused repeated requests to move away. The claims were subsequently proven to be contradicted by what was seen in the CCTV footage. Probably, unsurprisingly, the charges were dropped after that footage surfaced. For holding police accountable for their actions—she was not interfering, nor was she obstructing; she was simply watching and bearing witness, if you like—this young woman was arrested and charged, and if it were not for the CCTV footage, there is every reason to expect that she would have been convicted based on false statements by three police officers. I find this particularly concerning because, members, if I am concerned about what I am witnessing, I am one of those people who will take footage of matters. So there is a little bit of “there but for the grace of God go I” in relation to what happened to this young woman.
The case demonstrates some outrageous behaviour by police towards both the teenage boy in the first place and then the onlooker. It is particularly outrageous that, reportedly, the police officer then escaped any sanction for his behaviour, after an internal investigation found that the level of force used was necessary and not excessive. The onlooker was really fortunate to receive pro bono legal assistance. Even luckier, she was able to access independent footage to verify what had happened to her and to contradict the statements by the three police officers. Given how difficult it can be to access justice, it begs the question: what happens to people in similar situations who are unable to access independent legal advice or when there is no CCTV or other footage to back up their testimony? The report does not mention whether police are investigating the decision to pursue charges against the witness—charges which appear to be straight-out vindictive. It is really concerning if police have a problem ultimately with being observed when they are using force, because if that force is proportionate, clearly there is no problem. There is widespread, completely understandable concern about police investigating police and I certainly hope that the CCC is looking at this case, because I am not privy to what investigations the CCC may be undertaking at any given point.
There are some disturbing parallels between the case reported by The Guardian and an incident that did manage to be one of the very few cases of excessive use of force by police investigated by the CCC. That incident also happened in 2018. That gives members an idea of the time frame we are looking at for these matters to be addressed. The CCC looked at the Western Australia Police Force’s investigation into whether a 13-year-old child in custody was assaulted by a police officer and whether that officer and others involved in the incident subsequently attempted to pervert the course of justice. When the charges were heard in court, the magistrate not only dismissed the child’s assault charges, but also raised serious concerns that a police officer had used excessive force against the child and questioned the veracity of the evidence the WA Police Force was presenting in support of those charges. The commission went on to question WA police’s response, and was of the view that the reasoning applied by the WA Police Force investigator to justify, on the one hand, not criminally charging the officer with assault, but, on the other hand, sanctioning the officer for unnecessary use of force, was considered to be inconsistent and flawed. The 13-year-old child was a vulnerable child who is within the child protection system. Although it is not noted, information in the report suggests that the child is Aboriginal. The footage attached to that report is also quite disturbing and it is very clear that the child was very distressed and that the approach taken by police was appalling. I also understand that before that footage was released more widely, no-one had consulted with that child or, indeed, anyone who had responsibility for that child to make sure that it was okay to release that footage. I understand that the answer is no, it was not. But that is another issue.
I recognise that the majority of our police undertake their challenging work with a great deal of integrity, but police are also granted significant powers, and these outrageous cases quite rightly undermine black confidence. I think it is more important than ever, particularly considering this year, the concerns raised by the Black Lives Matter movement and the fact that we are in the process of giving police a range of unprecedented powers, that people are able to trust our police. They need to be able to trust that when police do the wrong thing, they will be investigated properly and there will be appropriate repercussions for people who do not do the right thing and there will be justice for victims. It is very important, and I hope that we hear further that the police have taken these matters particularly seriously and will look into pursuing charges against the police.