Thursday, August 20, 2015

West Australia: Corruption and Crime Commission reveals assault by cops against woman at East Perth Watch House

No action planned against the cops concerned.  Determined and forceful refusal to co-operate with lawful police requests does risk the cops losing it

A WOMAN was repeatedly struck by police — with one officer using “hammer blows” – and had her finger broken in a shocking strip search incident condemned by the state’s corruption and crime watchdog.

The Corruption and Crime Commission’s damning report into the incident at the East Perth Watch House on April 7, 2013 found there were “serious misconduct, misconduct or reviewable police action in relation to five officers”.

The report was tabled in Parliament on Thursday morning, and CCTV vision showing part of the incident was also released.

In the early hours of that day, Joanne Martin, then 33, was arrested for disorderly conduct in Northbridge and taken to the East Perth Watch House.

The CCC found there was “nothing to indicate Ms Martin was a threat to any person” and that no person should be subjected to the kind of treatment meted out to her.

The watchdog noted in its report that soon after her arrival, Ms Martin found herself naked, lying face down on a floor, with a number of female watch house officers seeking to forcibly restrain her.

“One (was) applying hammer blows with a fist to the shoulder blade area, a second also striking here, and another using such force to try and remove a ring that it caused a serious fracture of a finger,” the report states.

“A little later, Ms Martin was escorted handcuffed and with leg restraints, naked apart from a blanket, past male officers.

“It is of considerable concern that a person could in Perth in 2013 undergo what befell Joanne Martin at the watch house on the morning of 7 April 2013.”

The CCC condemned the “unacceptable” treatment.  “It is clear from the … analysis of the events of 7 April 2013 that poor training and supervision, failures to adhere to the statutory and regulatory framework, and inconsistencies between the legislative protections for those in police custody and internal police rules were prime causes of those events,” it reports.

The report states this incident was occurring in the context of apparently similar conduct — tacitly or otherwise — approved by WA Police.

“That this is the case is the result of institutionalised failure by WA Police and the failure of its chains of command to ensure that the law, various regulations, policies and procedures are correctly applied, and its officers and their supervisors are accordingly held to account,” the report states.
The East Perth Watch House where a woman was subjected to a shocking strip search and had her finger broken.

While noting that some steps had been taken to improve procedures since the move to the Perth Watch House in Northbridge, the CCC is calling for urgent action on training and supervision of officers in the wake of its investigation into this matter.

The CCC supported police’s plans to install a body scanner at the Perth Watch House to replace strip searches, but it remains “dissatisfied” with other measures taken to address the misconduct.

Improved training, supervision, record keeping and a mandatory regime to protect detainees who are strip-searched are among six recommendations in the report.

In a response to the CCC in January, WA Police Superintendent of the Ethical Standards Division, John Leembruggen, said no criminal or managerial would be taken against the officers involved. However, a sergeant did receive “verbal guidance” for failing to accommodate Ms Martin’s request to lodge a complaint.

“Martin’s extraordinary physical strength posed a risk to the individual officers who were merely trying to lawfully remove her clothing and personal property and it is regrettable that during this process she received an injury to her ring finger,” he said.

“Ms Martin’s strength and grim determination not to allow the officers to carry out their lawful duty is illustrated by the necessity for seven other women to restrain her.

“WA Police hold the view it was Ms Martin’s unswerving and sustained opposition that set the standard, not something precipitated by uncontrolled aggression by any officer.”

In a subsequent letter to the CCC in July, Acting Assistant Commissioner of Judicial Services Lawrence Panaia said police supported the watchdog’s recommendations.

“Our staff work in a volatile environment with many intoxicated and violent detainees and experience has shown detainees frequently try to do harm to themselves or others,” he said.

“In particular, officers need to tread the fine line between not searching thoroughly (leading to self-harm and assaults) and searching too thoroughly, leading to unnecessary conflict with detainees ... where procedures are lacking or mistakes have been made, we will make improvements.”

Mr O’Callaghan said situations escalated in occasion in watch houses but the officers didn’t deviate from their training. “They have to make a decision about how they restrain the prisoner in those circumstances,” he told 6PR.

He also said the concern was for the safety of the detainee, who wasn’t a small woman. “We don’t agree that there was no reason to strip search that woman,” he said.

WA Police Union President George Tilbury said he fully supports the Commissioner in his reaction to the CCC report.  “Police watch houses are dynamic and volatile environments, and the WAPU will always support our members taking the necessary precautions, to ensure their safety as well as that of persons in custody,” he said.

“We will continue to work with WA Police and our Perth Watch House branch to ensure the safety of our members is paramount. “WAPU is disappointed it took so long for the CCC to form its opinions relating to our Members’ actions. Under its old administration, the CCC identified this incident and directed WA Police not to investigate.

“We believe the Professional Standards Portfolio is best placed to investigate allegations of police misconduct. If they were allowed to investigate, any perceived issues would have been resolved much sooner.”

Original report here

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