Issue #1557 25 July 2012
Police brutality exposed by case
Magistrate finds cops committed assault, lied under oath
The brutal and unprovoked assault by police officers in northern NSW on a young Aboriginal man, initiation of false charges against him and the officers’ subsequent lies under oath have led a NSW Magistrate to refer three officers to the Police Integrity Commission, and possibly to the Supreme Court to face contempt charges.
Ballina Police Station where Aboriginal man Corey Barker was bashed by police.
(Photo: Koori Mail)
In his written decision handed down in Ballina Local Court, Magistrate David Heilpern said it was hard to imagine “a clearer example of bad faith than initiating proceedings on the basis of an allegation of an assault that simply did not occur”.
“Further, it is hard to imagine a clearer case of an improper investigation … where what is said to have occurred simply did not,” he said.
When 22-year-old Dunghutti man Corey Barker set out for a few drinks with a mate, he had no idea his whole life would be turned upside down. Mr Barker and his friend were walking down Tamar Street in Ballina, northern NSW, when they saw a young couple arguing with police officers.
They believed the officers were being unnecessarily heavy-handed with the young woman so Mr Barker got out his mobile telephone to video the situation while his friend started arguing with the police.
Mr Barker threw a plastic bottle at his friend, then the police tackled both of them to the ground, arrested Mr Barker and took him to Ballina Police Station.
In the closed circuit TV (CCTV) videos from Ballina Police Station, viewed by the Koori Mail, five officers are seen moving Mr Barker from the dock to a holding cell, through a room (the BAS room). They bang Mr Barker’s head into a wall, smash him into a heavy machine and then force him to the ground, where they punch and kick him until they drag him down the hall.
“One cannot help but wince at this portion of the evidence, as it must be an extremely painful way of being transported,” Magistrate Heilpern said in his decision.
“The infliction of such pain was also completely unnecessary.”
Mr Barker was unable to offer any resistance at any time as his hands were held behind his back by one of the officers.
He was then left, handcuffed, in the cell for more than 90 minutes, when he was transported to Lismore. Mr Barker’s mother says that at Lismore her son was refused access to a medical officer. When police initiated charges against Mr Barker they claimed that the CCTV footage was damaged.
On the first day of the hearing, Senior Constable Hill told the court that Mr Barker had punched him in the nose, had evaded police, refused to comply with instructions and that police were forced to subdue him to stop him from fighting.
Mr Heilpern adjourned the case and sent away the video footage to see if it could be fixed. It was repaired – but the police officers involved did not know that.
On the second day of the hearing, 2 December 2011, Senior Constable Hill was recalled to the stand. “Rarely have I seen such a display, and never by a police officer,” Magistrate Heilpern writes in his judgment.
“Despite the DVD evidence and all of us being able to see it in court, the senior constable refused to accept that what was depicted was what had occurred. It was as though there were two parallel universes in court: the imaginary one of Senior Constable Hill and the real one that the rest of us – including the prosecutor – could see.”
Mr Barker’s mother Angelique Sines was at Ballina Court House for the decision last week. Her son has moved out of the area saying he has been traumatised by the false charges against him and the assault by police.
“Corey just wants a break,” Ms Sines said. “He had to have time off work and he just wants to get on with things. If it wasn’t for the footage, he’d be gone, in jail.
“On the night it happened I was so worried I actually apologised to my son’s abuser because he told me that my son had punched him. I’m not saying my son’s perfect, but he loves his family and he’s my boy. If the judge hadn’t ordered that video to be fixed there’s no two ways about it, Corey would be in jail.
“How many other people have had similar things happen to them?”
After brutalising Mr Barker, police charged him with seven offences, which meant that once he was released on bail, he had to report to Ballina Police Station – the scene of the attack – three times a week.
On the night Mr Barker was arrested Ms Sines went to Ballina Police Station to identify her son, who had given police his brother’s name.
She was outside the station at the time of police assaulting her son, listening to him screaming for help.
“You don’t do that to an animal,” she said. “Our whole family has been affected. I just hope those officers now have to squirm, wondering what’s going to happen to them, like Corey had to wonder for 14 months if he was going to jail.”
Summing up the evidence of the first three days of the hearing, Magistrate Heilpern wrote: “We have four police officers giving evidence that the defendant would not put his hands behind him in the dock, that he punched Senior Constable Hill in the nose in or on the way into the BAS room and that he was given the opportunity to get up before being dragged with his handcuffed hands behind his back into the cell … not one of those things occurred.
“Senior Constable Eckersley kicked him in or toward the face and tried to stomp on his hands. Senior Constable Mewing ‘gave him’ a knee-strike.
“Neither Senior Constable Eckersley nor Senior Constable Mewing happened to note in their statements that they had kicked or kneed the defendant.
“Constable Walmsley lied about whom he spoke to on December 2, 2011 and Senior Constable Hill gave him a handy tip that the tape had been recovered.
“It is indeed fortunate that the video could be recovered. Without it, this grave injustice would in all likelihood have never come to light. This is particularly (relevant) as the defendant was subject to a suspended sentence at the time of this allegation.”
Regarding Constable Walmsley, Magistrate Heilpern wrote: “I am satisfied on balance that the officer has lied on oath about this issue in an effort to mislead the court and attempt to ensure it was not aware of witness collusion.
“It is of course a serious matter where a witness who has completed his evidence gives some tips to a witness who has not, and also may be an attempt to pervert the course of justice.”
Of Senior Constable Mewing’s evidence, Mr Heilpern wrote: “There is no other way of interpreting this passage but as an admission of police brutality.”
Mr Barker’s solicitor Vince Boss said his client was considering his options regarding instigating legal action.
“Members of the community should feel confident that there is zero tolerance for thugs in uniform and also zero tolerance for people collaborating with and covering for thugs in uniform,” he said.
Senior Constable Hill, Senior Constable Eckersley and Constable Walmsley have been put on restricted duties, pending the outcome of investigations.
All charges against Mr Barker have been withdrawn or dismissed, with costs of $30,864.31 awarded to his solicitor, to be paid by the police.
The magistrate referred the judgement to the Police Integrity Commission and adjourned the matter until August 9, when he will decide whether to refer an allegation of contempt to the NSW Supreme Court.
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