THE 2013 Mardi Gras was my first in several years. I hadn’t been able to party because of various problems stemming from rheumatoid arthritis. In any event, I had my party body ready to go and was so excited to be celebrating with my friends and the rest of our community.

There’s nothing quite so liberating as dancing to Kitty Glitter while feeling the freedom to be same-sex attracted in the style that Sydney gays and lesbians do so well.

But on our walk to the party, my girlfriend had a wardrobe malfunction with her boot. We were stuck directly out the front of the party entrance waiting on some boys to deliver superglue to fix the malfunction.

I was shocked at what I fast saw becoming the night from hell for so many of our community. I witnessed many arrests that in my view that did not meet the requirements of reasonable suspicion; I saw a police officer with a dog stand out the front and randomly and physically pulled a party-goer out of the crowd by grabbing the person by the arm or shoulder and with no detection by the dog whatsoever.

This party-goer would then be swarmed by numerous other police all dressed in very aggressive looking riot gear or fatigue-type uniforms and then taken metres away for a search.  Meanwhile, the arresting officer had already returned to his watch and again he would again randomly pick out another party-goer and again without reasonable suspicion and then start all over again.

I was appalled by the total lack of procedure and lack of required reasonable suspicion; I think I was most outraged by the complete and total lack of deference to the legal requirements for searches.

At one point during our wait outside, we witnessed an arrest that was so far outside of the necessary requirements for a legal search that I believed it constituted an assault on the party-goer.  We witnessed this person be swarmed and surrounded by police with lots of indecipherable yelling.

The main officer, who was yelling at him, then pushed his head back and violently thrust his fingers into the party-goer’s mouth.  The aggressiveness of this search indicated the person did not give his permission to such a physical and violent act – and it also as a textbook case of an illegal cavity search.

At around 11.15pm or so I witnessed the police bring in another dog; what appeared to be a very young chocolate Labrador juvenile; it was clearly untrained and jumping all over the police officer’s legs. This untrained dog was then used to carry out further searches on party-goers that did not meet the requirements for reasonable suspicion.

I witnessed two arrests and subsequent unwarranted searches based on the use of this untrained dog to detect the presence of drugs.

There appeared to be no grounds of reasonable suspicion in all but one of these searches.  The only grounds for suspicion that I could see were that the people being searched were at the same venue and were attending a dance party.  This is not sufficient to establish reasonable grounds and I was seriously disappointed in the police force’s actions.

As a lawyer with a human rights ethic, I was horrified. As a lawyer with a criminal law speciality at Dowson Turco Lawyers, I was tempted to intervene and make representations. But in reality, I had already had a few beverages and I know only too well that fights with police are best handled by the court. The Jamie Jackson prosecution is a good example of this.

What I had witnessed that night stayed with me into The Laneway party and then throughout the following week.

Dowson Turco Lawyers is made up of lawyers from the queer community and we spent the whole week after the party talking about events over that fateful weekend. I decided to take action by making a formal complaint to NSW Police.

After making my complaint to the officer in charge of handling community feedback relating to Mardi Gras 2013, I was surprised that despite being a solicitor and an Officer of the Supreme Court of NSW, I had no right to have my formal complaint investigated because I was not personally mistreated by the police.

Indeed, while I gave a full written account of what I had witnessed on my walk to the Mardi Gras Party, NSW Police declined to consider my complaint on the grounds I was not directly affected by their actions.

I felt most disheartened at this response given most people who are mistreated by NSW Police are too scared to complain.  This leaves it to independent witnesses who aren’t the subject of the alleged misconduct to take matters further.

So, it was many months later, probably October 2013, when I was contacted by a police officer charged with carrying out the internal investigation from the Surry Hills Local Area Command who told me that while I had no right to have my written complaint about NSW Police conduct investigated, I had given an account of events that closely matched other formal complaints from people who were the actual victims of NSW Police misconduct on that Mardi Gras night.

As a result of the similarity in witness accounts and complaints against NSW Police, the police were now ready to exercise discretion and accept my complaint and take a formal witness statement from me.

In all of this, I was shocked to discover that the NSW Police Force was considering dismissing the victims’ complaints because their stories were not corroborated by an independent witness account.

However, on a very positive note, I was thankful that all of the officers investigating these events right through from the LAC Commander Tony Crandell to the officer taking my formal statement treated me with respect and dignity and approached the investigation with a level of professionalism that helped restore some faith in the police.

Isn’t it about time we started renamed the police force back to the police service?

And just so you know, the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW) states:

  • Police must inform the person whether they will be required to remove clothing during the search, and why this is necessary;
  • Police must ask for the person’s cooperation;
  • The search must be conducted in a way that provides reasonable privacy for the person searched, and as quickly as is reasonably practicable;
  • Police must conduct the least invasive kind of search practicable in the circumstances;
  • Police must not search the person’s genital area (or the breasts of a female or a female-identifying transgender person) unless the police suspect on reasonable grounds that it is necessary to do for the purpose of the search.
  • The search must be conducted by a police officer or other person of the same sex as the person searched (or by a person of the same sex under the direction of the police officer or other person concerned).
  • A search must not be carried out while the person is being questioned. Any questioning that has commenced must be suspended while the search is carried out.
  • A person must be allowed to dress as soon as a search is finished.
  • If clothing is seized because of the search, the police officer must ensure the person searched is left with or given reasonably appropriate clothing.

 

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