Technology has played a key part delivering evidence of police “thuggery” in NSW with a coroner today recommending five police officers face disciplinary action and others go before the Police Integrity Commission following the death of Brazilian student Roberto Laudisio Curti.NSW Coroner Mary Jerram was able to witness first hand CCTV images taken by cameras embedded in taser guns wielded by police in a “reckless, careless, dangerous and excessively forceful” way.
The Coroner also had access to a network of CCTV cameras surrounding the area where police attacked the victim with a barrage of taser fire.
Ms Jerram said many officers had lied to the inquest and “conveniently forgotten” evidence.
In the past Police officers have often compared notes, and because of the lack of technology devices such as cameras, they have been able to present collaborated evidence that a defence has found hard to challenge.
Coroner Mary Jerram said the 11 Police officers acted like “schoolboys in Lord of the Flies”, with no idea what the problem was, or what threat or crime was supposedly being averted by the chaotic and violent struggle.
Mr Curti was tasered multiple times and sprayed with OC spray.
“The actions of a number of the officers were … reckless, careless, dangerous and excessively forceful,” she said.
“They were an abuse of police powers [and] in some instances even thuggish. Roberto’s only foes during his ordeal were the police … Certainly, he had taken an illicit drug, as has become all too common in today’s society. But he was guilty of no serious offence. He was proffering no threat to anyone.”
A NSW barrister who specialises in criminal matters told SmartHouse that the practise of “verballing” by NSW police officers has been going on for years. “The big difference now is that technology is catching officers out lying about arrests and blatantly presenting false evidence in Court” the barrister said.
“In the past it was the word of the police officer Vs the offender. Now technology is revealing the lengths police officers will go to in trying to get a conviction, even if it involves blatant lying. They like to be judge and jury even before a matter has come to court” he added.
Earlier this year Ballina Local Court Magistrate David Heilpern was shown CCTV footage that showed several NSW police officers assaulted an Aboriginal man in a northern NSW police station, then falsely claimed he had attacked them.
Senior Constable Ryan Eckersley was shown on the CCTV kicking the man in the head region while he was on the ground and another officer kneeing him in the side.
The officers then dragged Barker along the ground into a cell where he was left, handcuffed, for more than an hour.
Barker had significant facial and other injuries when he left the station.
“It was crystal clear that the defendant at no time punched Senior Constable Hill in the nose as described,” Heilpern said.
In another case of false evidence being exposed by technology, Downing Centre Local Court heard last month how Manly Police Office Ryan Godfrey drew his taser and sent 50,000 volts into the back of a man who, he claimed, had been “loud and aggressive” towards him and transit officers on a bus.
The man, who attracted the attention of police after he commented that four transit officers demanding he produce his bus pass was a waste of taxpayer money, got into trouble when a transit officer accused him of being a ”smart-arse”.
Three police officers boarded the bus and ordered Lindsay off. When he got off the bus and went to walk away from police – shocked at how a joke could go so wrong (his third mistake) – things got much worse and potentially fatal.
The Sydney Morning Herald covered the case and reported the officer in charge, Constable Ryan Godfrey, drew his taser and sent 50,000 volts into Lindsay’s lower back. An ambulance was called and police charged Lindsay with offensive language, resisting arrest and assaulting police.
Under cross examination at the Downing Centre Local Court on March 12, Constable Godfrey told the court when Lindsay was asked to leave the bus, “he’s replied with words similar to, ‘This is f—ed, it takes f—ing four of you c—s to do this, this is f—ed.'”
Constable Godfrey then described a struggle on the footpath outside the bus when trying to handcuff Lindsay. ”That was proving rather difficult. As I said, he’s of large stature. He was overpowering us.”
The problem for Godfrey and the NSW Police Force was that Godfrey’s evidence was proven to be false because mobile phone footage clearly showed that Mr Lindsay had not swore at police and had in fact been polite uttering the expressions ”please” and ”excuse me”.
Backing up Godfrey’s version of events was Constable Parkinson and Constable Christopher Gould, along with the four transit officers.
The false evidence came to light when the court was shown a passenger’s mobile phone footage of what happened on the bus.
After the footage was shown to the court, the police prosecutor, Sergeant Grant Bucknell, immediately withdrew all the charges.
The magistrate, Lee Gilmour, said that Constable Godfrey lied under oath. She awarded $12,000 in costs to Mr Lindsay.
In another case reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, questions are being raised about a missing 25 minutes and 46 seconds of video captured at Rose Bay Police Station.
Earlier this year 29-year-old John Tanner went to the Police Station to report three security guards bundled him out of a club and attacked him at 11pm in the Sydney CBD.
His 41-year-old partner David Rook collected him and they drove to Rose Bay police station, 500 metres from their home, to report the alleged assault.
“At first police started to write down our details but then they started giving each other knowing glances and put their pads away,” said Mr Rook, who believes that, because he has a stammer and is gay, he was not taken seriously.
When they left the police station and after showing police their injuries, he drove around the corner to their home.
As they drove up their drive way “police lights flashed behind us,” they said.
Mr Rook was breath-tested and blew .12 more than twice the limit – and was arrested and charged at Waverley police station with mid-range PCA.
He told the SMH “I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it. I had only driven to rescue my partner and police had followed us from the station to arrest me,” he said.
Mr Tanner went back to Rose Bay police station to protest.
“By now it’s 3am and police refused to take his statement, and they threw him out of the station,” said Mr Rook.
It is what happened at the station that lies at the centre of the dispute as 25 minutes and 46 seconds of CCTV footage which appear to be missing.
The couple applied under freedom-of-information laws for the CCTV footage from Rose Bay police station.
On September 14, police declined their Government Information Public Access (GIPA) request, stating there was an “overriding public interest against disclosure”.
The couple appealed and, while waiting for the GIPA result, Mr Rook was allowed to view the video at Rose Bay police station.
He said it clearly showed his partner being assaulted by police, who repeatedly threw him out of the station then allegedly kicked and punched him when he was trying to re-enter.
But on October 18, when police sent them the CCTV video, the alleged assault had been cut.
The NSW Office of the Information Commission, that oversees GIPA applications, agreed and reported on February 17: “sections of footage appear to be missing from the copy of the CCTV footage.
A City Central commander Superintendent Mark Walton told the SMH a “thorough and independent investigation” found no evidence of tampering or inappropriate police behaviour.
The NSW Ombudsman is now reviewing that investigation, he said.
In the latest embarrassment for NSW Police, Coroner Jerram handed down 35 pages of findings into into the death of the 21-year-old Brazilian student and football player.
While stopping short of recommending criminal charges, Ms Jerram delivered a damning indictment on the entire episode. “It’s impossible to believe that he would have died but for the actions of police,” she said.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Mr Curti was chased by police down Pitt Street, tasered several times, sprayed with almost three cans of OC spray, handcuffed and restrained by seven officers on the ground.
She said the most senior officer present during the violent struggle on Pitt St, Inspector Gregory Cooper, gave evidence that was so conflicting and self-serving it “hardly deserves narration”.
He claimed that he told the junior officers to stop using their tasers.
None of those officers heard the order and the Coroner said it was likely he never made it but was seeking to shift the blame onto other officers in court.
Ms Jerram suspected that some officers were angry and emotional because they had been hit by taser shots and inadvertently sprayed during the botched arrest.
However she said it was not right to refer them for criminal charges as it was about “policing issues warranting investigation by policing bodies”.
Ms Jerram recommended five officers, including Probationary Constable Daniel Barling, who tasered Mr Curti five times after he was handcuffed, be disciplined.
She also called for an immediate review of the vague and confusing standard operating procedures relating to the use of OC spray, Tasers, handcuffs, restraint and positional asphyxia, particularly the use of multiple taser shots and its “drive stun mode” as a pain compliance tool.