There appears to be no disciplinary action initiated against any member of Victoria Police’s Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) in connection with the  botched 2019 raid on Melbourne’s iconic book store Hares & Hyenas and the serious injuries suffered by LGBTQI event promoter Nik Dimopoulos. 

Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) published a fresh update into its inquiry into the raid and the police’s response to its queries. 

In its response the police said that it had looked into the points raised by IBAC and allegations in the report.

Victoria Police Investigated Officers

“Victoria Police advises it has investigated the actions of officers with respect to the arrest of Mr Dimopoulos,” the report said, adding that the Acting Sergeant of the CIRT “was given Workplace Guidance on November 23, 2020 for all three matters.”

This was in response to IBAC’s query that CIRT officers had arrested Dimopoulos, but failed to provide him with the reason or provide caution or his rights. 

The CIRT had had raided the Hares & Hyenas bookstore in Fitzroy on May 11, 2019 while reportedly pursuing a car jacking suspect. Nik Dimopolous, was sleeping in an apartment above the bookstore owned by his friends Rowland Thomson and Crusader Hillis. 

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 Dimopoulos was woken up and assuming it was a gay bashing or home invasion attempted to flee to the street. The police tackled Dimopoulos, dragged him to the street and handcuffed him. He sustained a serious injury and had his shoulder ripped from its socket. He said that at no point did the officers identify themselves as police.

IBAC in its inquiry into the incident titled ‘Operation Lynd’ rejected allegations that the police had used “disproportionate force”. It concluded that Dimopoulos’ human rights had been “impacted” as the police officers did not “advise him of the reason for his arrest, make him aware of his rights, or officially release him from custody.”

‘Not Provided Reason For Arrest’

Victoria Police in its response said that “Dimopoulos was not provided the reason for his arrest, as the Acting Sergeant in charge of the CIRT was of the view that once they had gained compliance and handed custody of him to the Criminal Investigation Unit (CIU) member, the detective would attend to that. The CIU member indicated he quickly realised Mr Dimopoulos was not the wanted offender and arranged for him to attend at hospital, therefore did not take him into custody.”

The police said that it had now established a formal handover procedure for the CIRT and had updated its Use of Force policy. Training had been provided to CIRT officers in July 2020. The use of body-worn cameras was a focus of its Operational Safety Tactics Training, the police said. 

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 Victoria Police also revealed that it had  recorded “22 complaint or oversight files related to the CIRT during 2017/18 and 2018/19.”

IBAC To Table Report In Parliament

IBAC said that it would be preparing a special report for the Parliament. 

Operation Lynd highlighted a number of concerns with the operation of the CIRT. However, IBAC holds broader concerns regarding potential systemic issues and misconduct vulnerabilities in relation to the CIRT, arising from IBAC’s oversight and review of other incidents involving CIRT members,” said the commission, adding, “IBAC is developing a special report on police misconduct issues and risks associated with the CIRT, to be tabled to Parliament in 2021/22. This report will be informed by IBAC’s analysis of the information provided by Victoria Police pursuant to Operation Lynd.”

Hares and Hyenas termed it a “farce” pointing out that neither Rowland nor Crusader – the only two non-police eyewitnesses to the incident – were interviewed by IBAC. 

“IBAC did not even interview or use evidence of the only non police eyewitnesses: Rowland and Crusader. And because they are not witnesses they are exempt (from) most restrictions on speech IBAC throws at witnesses. Farce.” 

‘Police Oversight System Broken’

Rights organisations said that the report reflected that the police oversight system in Victoria was not working. 

“While we welcome the fact that IBAC will prepare a special report to the Parliament on police misconduct issues and risks associated with the CIRT, more work needs to be done to develop a victim-centered policy and culture at IBAC, including development of a complainant’s charter,” said Nevena Spirovska, co-convenor of the Victorian Pride Lobby. 

Spirovska pointed out that the failure to interview the bookstore owners was a major lacunae. “Had IBAC done so, they could have determined what was and was not said when Victoria Police entered the premises as well as giving them an opportunity for their experiences to be incorporated into the investigation. Incidents like this and the ongoing Lawyer X scandal show that the police oversight system in Victorian is broken and the Government must act immediately to address these systemic issues.”

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