The independent police watchdog found there was no misconduct by NSW Police officers involved in an arrest that left an Aboriginal boy with his “cheek torn apart”.
The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) investigated the incident which took place in Western Sydney on August 18 of last year. The investigation began after the Department of Family and Community Services reported an alleged police assault.
The 14-year-old Aboriginal boy, who is referred to as KR01, was a passenger in a stolen car which NSW Police pursued. There were five police officers present, and five young people were arrested.
KR01 ran from the car before being tackled into a shipping container. Four police officers wrestled him to the ground, whilst one officer repeatedly struck the boy.
The boy was hospitalised for injuries. He required surgery for his cheek which was reportedly “torn apart” in the incident.
A paediatrician had concluded that his injuries were “extensive and severe”.
All officers were cleared of any wrongdoing by the LECC.
The Commission found that the injuries sustained were “not inflicted intentionally or as a result of unreasonable use of force”. However, the Commission did conclude that the injuries were sustained in an unnecessary tackle by a police officer.
KR01 was admitted the Westmead Children’s Hospital, where he disclosed to medical staff he was repeatedly kicked and punched by officers and hit with radios.
“I could see like stuff hitting me in the head, like black stuff hitting me in the head,” he told the Commission.
Despite the allegations, the Commission concluded that sustained injuries were most likely to have been sustained from falling against a shipping container and being struck by one of the officers.
“A young slightly built adolescent had at one point four police officers wrestling with him with at least one of them striking him three times,” the Commission report reads.
“To KRO1 this may well have felt like he was being punched and attacked by several police officers, possibly with police radios.”
The report noted that any “struggling or screaming” done by the boy after being tackled by an officer could only be considered “a reasonable reaction to having his cheek torn apart on the container”.
The report also noted that the police officer had provided evidence that KR01 had, the evening before, used a knife.
“They were concerned that he may still have a weapon on his person,” it read.
None of the five police officers on site were wearing body cameras, the report noted it a “regrettable” fact and recommended their use.
The Commissioner noted that if bodycam footage had been available, an investigation may not have been necessary.
The report noted that the absence of police command and control, contributed to unreasonable decisions as to how the arrest could have been done without injuries.
The Commission also recommended that any injuries sustained during police operations are recorded, and photographs taken of the arrest site. This recommendation was made after the report found that the police did not mention any use of force at all in its report of the arrest in the incident database, COPS.
By Rachael Knowles