POLICE branded a young journalism student a “cop hater” in an effort to bury a damning video she’d taken of three officers roughing up a couple in a Hamilton Hill park last year.
The three officers, named only as Hitchen, Thompson and Richardson, were suspended from duty this week after Magistrate Steven Malley threw out all but the most minor charges they’d laid against Andrew Copperwaite and Jacqueline Briffa.
Mr Malley chastised the officers for misleading his court and said Mr Copperwaite and Ms Briffa shouldn’t have been the ones facing assault charges as they’d been acting in self-defence.
UWA student Elise Svanberg was visiting her grandmother across the road from Hobbs Park on December 1 last year and captured part of the altercation on video.
It shows Mr Copperwaite, who had an outstanding arrest warrant, being held to the ground while officer Hitchens punches, knees and elbows him more than 20 times to the back and shoulders. Another officer tries tasering him, even though he was pinned down, while Ms Briffa was repeatedly kicked and punched when she came to his aid.
Ms Svanberg gave a copy of the video to Channel 9 reporter Alice Pooley, and was furious to discover a police media liaison officer intervened in an effort to discredit her.
In an email exchange between the pair which was obtained by the Herald, Ms Pooley tells the budding journo she believes the “cop hater” comment was an attempt to kill the story.
“…they don’t know what vision I’ve seen, I wouldn’t worry about it, it was a [sic] off-hand pretty transparent comment from them!” Ms Pooley wrote.
The TV reporter told the Herald this week the slur came up during background research for the story, and after discussing it with her boss back in the newsroom it was decided it wasn’t relevant.
Ms Pooley declined to name the officer involved.
Ms Svanberg says the comment could potentially derail her career before it even starts, as media organisations might be reluctant to hire someone offside with the police department.
It wasn’t her only complaint about how the incident and its aftermath were handled, saying her contact details were withheld from the defence team and at one point she was told her not to come to court for the trial because the prosecutor was ill, even though the magistrate hadn’t been forewarned and could have insisted on the case going ahead.
She feared that without her testimony, the case could have come down to Mr Copperwaite’s and Ms Briffa’s word against a swag of police officers (by the end of the incident, there were at least 19 police officers and nine police cars at the park).
Ms Svanberg also claims a fourth police officer at the park aggressively interrogated Ms Briffa’s 13-year-old daughter despite the young girl’s obvious distress and confusion about what was going on. He told the girl, who wasn’t accompanied by an adult at the time, that her mother deserved what was happening to her.
“He managed to squeeze information out of her at a highly inappropriate time,” Ms Svanberg said.
The officer then refused to let Ms Svanberg write down her version of events.
“This was a problem because I had specific things I wanted to put in my statement but I couldn’t do it because he was the one writing the statement,” Ms Svanberg says in relation to her concerns about the officer’s behaviour towards the young girl.
“[He] never wrote down exactly what I said. Instead, he put them in his own words,” she said. At one point during the interview Ms Svanberg claims he told her he “would have gone in harder” against the couple.
She’s lodged an official complaint with the police and the CCC.
Police commissioner Chris Dawson wouldn’t comment on Ms Svanberg’s claims, saying the matter was to be subject to a fresh internal investigation.
But a spokesperson for the department said it was standard policy to remove witness contact details because of security concerns, while her statement had been handed over prior to the trial.
by STEVE GRANT