Police who allegedly used force against a self-harming teen were not wearing body cameras

Posted March 27, 2019 06:14:50

Residents in far west New South Wales are calling for a more consistent use of police body cameras following reports from witnesses about the way officers allegedly responded to a teenager who was self-harming.

Key points:

  • Two male Broken Hill police officers restrained a 16-year-old girl to prevent her from self-harming
  • The officers released their hold of the girl and one officer allegedly pulled her forcefully to the ground when they saw her moving back towards the house
  • The girl’s mother and aunt are calling for mandatory use of police body cameras as a result of the alleged incident

Many Aboriginal people in the far west told the ABC last year they felt like they could not turn to the police for help and often felt discriminated against or threatened when they did.

Last month, Donna Sullivan was at her home in Broken Hill’s predominately Indigenous Creedon Street neighbourhood when she found her 16-year-old niece self-harming.

After failing to convince her to stop, Ms Sullivan rang the police.

She said two male officers arrived at the house where they restrained the girl and tried to force a self-harming implement from her hand.

Ms Sullivan said her niece dropped the implement and the police officers released her in the front yard.

Her niece then turned around to take a step back towards the house.

“As she was walking away … the police officer ran from where he let her go … and slung her off the second step,” Ms Sullivan said.

She described the move as a quick grab and pull at her niece’s shoulder, which forced her backwards onto the ground.

The girl was then taken to hospital and was not seriously hurt either by her own actions or the fall, but it left her with a sore back.

The ABC has seen video footage of the aftermath of the incident which shows that neither officer was wearing a body-worn video camera.

Use of the cameras is at an officer’s discretion, but NSW Police guidelines advise officers switch it on “when exercising a policing power”, “during conversation with members of the public which may relate to an incident”, and while “performing a policing function”, among other scenarios.

More than a dozen witnesses

Several witnesses have confirmed to the ABC the account of Ms Sullivan, who said there were between 15 and 20 other residents who saw what happened.

“Everyone was yelling at them [the officers]. They couldn’t stand the tension,” Ms Sullivan said.

She also criticised the decision to send two male police officers to respond to a self-harm incident involving a teenage girl.

The commander of the Barrier Police District, Superintendent Paul Smith, said police were seeking witnesses or anybody who had footage.

“An inquiry into the incident is ongoing, and there will be no comment while related matters are before the court,” Superintendent Smith said.

Lack of cameras a ‘glaring oversight’

Human rights lawyer George Newhouse, who teaches Aboriginal communities about their rights when dealing with police, said there was no question that police who responded to such incidents should be equipped with cameras.

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“Police know that cameras ensure that everyone behaves better — both the police and the community,” Mr Newhouse said.

“If the officers weren’t even wearing them, it’s a glaring oversight, and it needs to be addressed by commanders, and even higher than that, by the commissioner level.

“In the event of a dispute between the police and the community about what happened, they can prove that they’ve done the right thing and if they haven’t, they can be held accountable.”

Mr Newhouse said he was pleased that several community members had recorded the aftermath of the incident with their mobile phone cameras.

“Better to film people with a camera than to use fists or get into trouble yourself,” he said.

Topics: police, indigenous-policy, indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, mental-health, broken-hill-2880

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