Footage reveals prisoner’s torment


Karen Kissane

THE slim young man taken to a cell for a strip search was “cocky and arrogant”, one policeman would later recall. He wasn’t drunk or drug-affected but he was full of smart remarks. He had no idea that his bad night was about to get much worse.
He’d already been strip-searched by police, he told the guard irritably.
He got as far as taking off his top and his shoes and then gave voice again.
According to a guard the Ombudsman’s report calls “Officer X”, the man shouted, “I’ve been searched before, you f g dogs, and you can get f—-d!”
The prisoner raised his arms out at his sides, his palms open.
According to Officer X, the man started screaming “and I got a bit of a fright . . . I went to push him away and yelled, ‘Stop’, and he grabbed me by the shirt and tried to grab me in, and that was when I just pulled him down to the floor and then tried to put an arm lock on but he was on top of me. Then other officers came in and assisted me . . . to get him off of me”.
The silent CCTV footage suggested another story. It showed the prisoner with his back to the wall and his arms out in front of him, touching or almost touching Officer X’s shirt. Officer X lunged at him, hands reaching for the prisoner’s neck.
Officer Y grabbed the prisoner’s upper body and within seconds the young man was wrestled to the ground.
An officer who entered the room at that point later agreed that the prisoner had definitely been subdued. He was lying on his stomach in arm locks.
A female officer the report named “Z” was among the reinforcements.
Another witness recalled: “She was like a little whirlwind. She just flew over the top of the guys and just took over.”
The prisoner later said: “This other lady came in and just jumped on me . . . put me hands behind my back and bending my fingers back and that, nearly broke my wrists, both of them.
“And while I’m on the ground, she smacked my head into the ground and blood started coming out and that and she’s just slapping me across the head and that and just being really violent, she was.”
A guard agreed that Officer Z “pretty much took over what the guys were doing, and grabbed the prisoner’s arm and put it behind his back with quite a bit of force. I believe I then grabbed his legs with another female officer.
“But . . . the prisoner was twisted. So he’s got three people on his top half and he’s got two people holding the bottom of his body that way.
“So of course he can’t roll over. So I’ve said, ‘He can’t roll over’, because they’re all screaming at him, ‘F g roll over! Roll over! Roll over!’ The female officer . . . slapped the prisoner in the face or punched him in the face and said, ‘How does that feel? And that’s coming from a woman!’ She still had his arm behind his back, and I remember (Officer X) saying, ‘Be careful, you’re going to break his arm.’ ”
Officer Z later denied she had struck the prisoner or pushed his head in a way that caused a bloody split above his eye but admitted using inappropriate language.
She also admitted, after initial denials, that she had a personal relationship with Officer X.
Officer X was puzzled by the Ombudsman’s investigation. He was just trying to do his job, he said: “I really can’t understand, you know, why this has snowballed to this extent.”

First published in The Age.