Police criticised for tasering

POLICE are under fire after yet another heavy-handed response in Fremantle that left a man tasered “for no good reason” and locked up over what was essentially a minor traffic infringement.

The incident occurred on Beach Street about a year ago and was the subject of a Corruption and Crime Commission investigation which was released this week.

It found that a senior constable’s tasering of the man amounted to serious misconduct, while three internal reports were flawed and appeared designed to find ways to justify the officer’s actions.  A passenger in the car had filmed much of the incident.

WA attorney general John Quigley says the footage left him “confronted and shocked” and he’ll be sending the CCC report to the state solicitor to work out what should happen next.

“Ninety nine per cent of the police do fantastic work out there in protecting the community and then something comes along like this to besmirch the police force is terrible,” Mr Quigley said Thursday morning.

“This is not the first incidence of unlawful tasering in Fremantle, as we know.”

• A senior constable has been taken off front-line duties over the tasering of a man in Fremantle.

Mr Quigley was referring to an incident almost a decade ago when associate professor Robert Cunningham and his partner Catherine Atoms were tasered by police after they’d stopped to help a man lying in bushes near the Esplanade Hotel.

The pair were awarded more than $1 million in damages in the district court, but that’s currently under appeal by the police union.

Assoc Prof Cunningham was in the middle of reading this week’s CCC report when the Herald contacted him.

He said he wasn’t able to comment until he’d read the full report, but said he’d had “thousands” of such stories come across his desk at Curtin University, where he works in the faculty of business and law.

“Nothing surprises me now,” he told the Herald.

The incident has also raised the issue of whether police should be issued with body cameras, which has the support of the police union.

Police minister Michelle Roberts says that’s possible.

“That’s certainly already under consideration and in some circumstances that would be helpful for police, because cameras, people’s mobile phones, whatever; it’s very much a two-way thing and as the attorney general suggested we live in a world now where people should expect to effectively be under surveillance 24/7.”

The tasering also follows the heavy-handed arrest of a couple in a Hamilton Hill park in 2016, where the video footage taken by journalism student Elise Svanberg blew apart the evidence of three police officers.

WA assistant police commissioner Nick Anticich told ABC on Thursday the footage had clearly damaged public confidence in the police, but says until extra evidence gathered by the CCC had been reviewed, he wasn’t prepared to accept the officer acted for no good reason.

The CCC report revealed that the altercation followed the driver flashing his lights, including possibly spotties, into the eyes of the officers after he’d been given a default notice for his modified Jeep.

Although this could have constituted an assault, the senior constable hadn’t considered arresting the driver and simply wanted to have words with him. But he seriously escalated the situation when he demanded the driver stop and tried to take his keys.

The CCC discounted his evidence that he was trying to protect a probationary constable who was near the front of the car and said he had no lawful reason to be attempting to take the keys.

by STEVE GRANT  and ALICE ANGELONI

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