Operation Ross: Ballarat public hearings into police misconduct

The Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) began its controversial public examinations into a long legacy of  allegations of serious police misconduct by police at Victoria’s Ballarat Station this week.

We will have observers at these public hearings, titled Operation Ross, at the Ballarat court complex each day from 23 to 27 May.

The hearings will examine whether human rights were violated; the sufficiency and appropriateness of internal reporting by police involved in the conduct; and the handling of complaints regarding the conduct by Victoria Police.

The central question in our minds is whether this litany of alleged abuses (and the need for this open hearing process) would have been averted had there been a system of prompt, effective and independent investigations of police misconduct in the first place.

Successive Victorian governments have failed to  implement an effective system to handle police complaints despite these calls being made for many decades.

This legal centre has been working in this space for some time and are currently pushing strongly to get this system right.  Our policy paper and info is available here.

We are available to make comment during the hearings. Please email Anthony Kelly on ceo@fkclc.org.au

As reported in both The Age and the Herald Sun this week, the hearings will start with claims that one of the alleged victims of horrific police brutality in the Ballarat cells was a female Victorian Police member who was arrested for public drunkenness while on sick leave.

For updates and more commentary return here.

Resources and media coverage:

IBAC Operation Ross Information page. 

Victoria Police set to be rocked by horrific brutality claims, Herald Sun,

IBAC set to reveal victim of alleged police brutality was serving police officer, The Age, Cameron Houston and Chris Vedelago,

IBAC: Video shows Ballarat police ‘kicking, stomping’ woman in custody, ABC News, Danny Tran, 23 May, 2016

‘Abusive and aggressive’ Ballarat sergeant filmed manhandling three women, IBAC hears, The Age, Alicia Thomas, 25

Twitter:

For updates from the IBAC hearing follow @FlemLegal   @SharnelleVella  @ibacVic or   #IBACRoss

Danny Tran tweets

Update: Wednesday 25 May

Day three of the Operation Ross public hearings in Ballarat begins with the  Inspector (Acting Superintendent) Peter Greaney being called to the witness stand.  This marks the start of examinations into the internal accountability processes since the initial incidents involving the treatment of people in custody discussed over the previous two days.

Mr Rush QC is questioning Greaney about his role as Duty Inspector on the 14 January 2015.

Greaney states that he was ‘advised that her welfare was being addressed’ and that he was ‘satisfied with response’.

Mr Rush concludes his questioning and Greene is excused from the witness stand. Five minute break.

Yesterday saw the release of cell CCTV footage depicting the handling and treatment of Person A, a 51 year old  serving policewoman who was on leave for personal issues on January 14 last year and was arrested for being drunk and disorderly after being involved in a scuffle with Sergeant Renee Hulls.   Most media outlets now have the footage online.

CCTV

For more follow @FlemLegal on Twitter or search #IBACRoss.

Update: 10:30am Tuesday 24 May

Day two of the IBAC Operation Ross hearings is about to get underway in Ballarat.  Today we have Alex and Allison from the Melbourne University Law School observing for us and further commentary from Tamar Hopkins who will be sitting in on the hearings today.

Yesterday’s opening statement and horrific CCTV footage of Person A being “stomped on and kicked” whilst naked certainly received media attention but it was Cameron Houston from The Age who raised the most important aspect of this hearing – namely, can police be trusted to investigate themselves?  His comment piece in today’s edition is well worth a read.

Can police be trusted to investigate their own? Cameron Houston, The Age, 23 May, 2016.

 Stay tuned for more updates as they come to hand and follow us at @FlemLegal  or   #IBACRoss

Follow @aliciajthomas @DANNYTRAN @SharnelleVella and @TamarHopkins2 who are all present at Day 2 of #IBACRoss hearing in Ballarat

Summary of Day 1

The IBAC Operation Ross public hearing is taking place in Ballarat Court. Commissioner Stephen O’Bryan QC is presiding and Jack Rush QC delivered an opening address as counsel assisting the Commissioner.

IBAC detected a far higher than normal amount of complaints relating to the Ballarat Police Service Area.

The hearing is seeking to address the following issues:

  1. Are there systemic issues of concern relating to the Ballarat uniform police?
  2. Did the executive respond to the high number of complaints?
  3. The role of Professional Standards Command in this process

It was noted that the significant number of complaints in Ballarat related to senior officers. These included Leading Senior Constables and Sergeants rather than junior members.

While the state-wide average number of complaints is 2.5 per officer, 52 members of Ballarat Police Station have 4 or more complaints made against them. In particular, one officer has 18 complaints, another officer has 11 complaints and a further officer had 7 complaints.

The hearing is focusing on 4 case studies.

The subject of inquiry commencing on Monday was Person A.

At 11pm on 14 January 2015, a 51 year-old female, identified as Person A, was arrested for being drunk in a public place. Police noted that she was abusive and aggressive and placed her in a cell.

During the night, Person A needed water and was given a cup by police. The water fountain in the police cell was not working. She motioned to the CCTV camera that she had no water but nobody came to her assistance, she also yelled through the flap in the door but again received no assistance. She eventually drank water from the toilet. Finally she managed to call the officer in charge. Two female officers walked in, including Sergeant Hulls, the officer in charge. There was a scuffle between the officer and Person A. Person A managed to get Sergeant Hulls’ lanyard and the two officers left. In evidence Sergeant Hulls stated that she noticed her lanyard was missing. She and the other officer returned to the cell and demanded that Person A give it back. A further scuffle ensued, during this she was Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) foamed by Sergeant Hulls directly to the face at a point blank range. A full canister of OC foam was deployed. Sergeant Hulls and the other officer were affected by secondary, or blowback, doses of the foam and they called for backup.

The Sergeant was examined by ambulance officers and taken to hospital for treatment. Person A was given a shower in her clothes for 20 minutes while handcuffed. She was then wrapped in a blanket and taken to Ballarat hospital. She was returned to the police cells at Ballarat at 2:40am. The temperature that night was 11°C. Person A was left without her pants, which had been taken off in a search, or a replacement garment. She was also left without a blanket and it, along with replacement pants, were not provided until 7am. Person A was charged in relation to this event but no charges were laid against police. At the time of her release she had been held for 16 hours.

Sergeant Renee Hulls was called to give her testimony of the events. She informed the hearing that it is standard operating procedure for all people who are lodged for drunk in public to be given a strip search. They are also not provided with a blanket or mattress. She was unaware that there was no running water in Cell A, in which Person A was held. She admitted that she doesn’t perform checks to identify problems of this nature and couldn’t state who is responsible for this. She claimed that she went back into the cell the second time, armed with OC foam, to get her lanyard back because it contained a cord and also to get her pen back as they might endanger Person A.

Sergeant Hulls didn’t know who was in charge of the station while she was incapacitated by the OC foam. She agreed that cold water should have been used in Person A’s shower and that she should not have been handcuffed while showering as this wouldn’t allow her to get the foam out of her eyes. She wasn’t aware that Person A had been left in wet clothes for hours, those that she had been forced to shower wearing. She agreed that police should have provided her with a change of clothes or a blanket.

Steven Redpac was then called to give his testimony. He initially arrested Person A for being drunk in public and drove her to Ballarat Police Station. Once she was processed, he left the station with his partner to resume his duties outside the office.

At 1:24am he received a call for urgent assistance at Ballarat Police Station. When he came back he saw Hulls looking exhausted and affected by OC foam. He presumed that she had been affected by a secondary dose of the foam. He said that he was given a directive to secure the prisoner but he couldn’t remember who asked him to do that. He ran into Cell A and saw Person A lying on her front. He said that he “jumped” (he later used the expression stood on) on her legs for the purposes of securing her lower-body while his partner, Senior Constable Munro, applied handcuffs. He was aware of the risk of positional asphyxia, ie a person may choke while affected by OC spray if he or she is laying face-down on the ground, but denied that he should have immediately put Person A in an upright position. He instead stated that he had to make sure she was handcuffed first.

Officer Redpac admitted that he was trained to provide aftercare, which including reassurance to calm the affected person down. He denied he yelled at Person A and claimed that he reassured by saying she’d be fine without shouting or screaming. He failed to ask if she suffered from asthma and said he’d assume she’d volunteer that information or it would have come up during the initial medical questions at processing. After putting Person A in the shower, he didn’t check the temperature of the water. Officer Redpac said he wasn’t aware who was in charge of the station during this period, given that Hulls was affected by OC foam.

Officer Redpac testified that he went in with Senior Constable Munro to handcuff Person A. He was shown footage that Person A was handcuffed earlier by two other officers. He denied that he had misunderstood the situation. He said that his perception at the time was he was going there to handcuff Person A. He didn’t notice that she was already handcuffed as he only focused on her lower body. When pressed on this point by counsel assisting, Mr Rush, he continually restated that it was his perception and didn’t admit that he had incorrectly perceived the situation.

Officer Redpac stepped on Person A’s legs a number of times. Initially he admitted to “jumping” on her legs and he said it was for the purposes of securing her lower body and to prevent her from kicking out. He said he weighed 95kg and was wearing police boots. Mr Rush suggested that these were typically heavy-duty boots with steel caps and Officer Redpac agreed but couldn’t confirm which type he was wearing on the night. Officer Redpac was shown footage of him kicking Person A as he left the cell. He said he kicked her as a knee-jerk reaction because he thought she might kick him. He claimed that it was a dynamic situation. Mr Rush challenged him that it was only dynamic because he made it that way. Officer Redpac denied the claim.

Lastly, Mr Rush asked Officer Repac if he stepping on a person’s legs and kicking them would require him to fill out a ‘use of force’ form. Officer Redpac said that it would. Mr Rush asked if he filled out the form and Officer Redpac said he thought he filled it out. Mr Rush said that he didn’t and that no ‘use of force’ form was produced.

Update: 2.15pm Monday

The opening address delivered by Jack Rush RFD QC is now available online here.

Alicia Thomas from the Ballarat Courier reports: Officer stripped, sprayed and kicked, then she had to drink from Ballarat cell’s toilet, IBAC hears

Update: 12:30pm Monday

Herald Sun journalist has reported how CCTV footage shown to the public hearing showed a Policewoman stripped naked and bashed.   The shocking footage showed her being “stripped naked below the waist before male colleagues kicked, stomped and stood on her.”

Footage played to the hearing showed the 51-year-old woman known as “Officer A” being stripped while handcuffed, left naked from the waste down while male officers stood on her legs.

“She was kicked, stomped, a stood on,” Mr Rush said.

The woman was later left in a cold cell with no pants or blanket before she was released after 16 hours.

The hearing continues.

See more at: Policewoman stripped naked and bashed in footage shown to anti-corruption hearing, Herald Sun, , 23 May 2016.

Update: 11.00am Monday 23rd May, 2016

Tweet 1

From Julian McDonald at the Ballarat Court:

Watching shocking CCTV footage shown to the hearing. Person A had her pants removed and her panties pulled down in the presence a male officer. Kicked and trampled multiple times. This was after she was OC foamed. She was left prostate even though OC foam guidelines indicate this is an asphyxiation risk. She wasn’t treated by attending ambulance officers even though the police were due secondary effects of the foam. She was showered with handcuffs on. Left without a blanket and no pants in a cell for over 4 hours on a 11 degree night.

Person B went to make a complaint at the PS and was arrested and detained. Persons C came to the PS to ask about her son and was thrown out in a chokehold. Her friend, person D was also detained and put in a chokehold by the same male officer. Persons A to D are all female.

Everyone taken into Ballarat Police Station for being drunk is strip searched and blankets or mattresses are not provided.

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