Nine months after the NSW police watchdog found that a local senior constable used excessive force when arresting a naked and distressed teenager in Byron Bay, prosecutors still haven’t decided whether or not to lay charges.
Community members and senior police have expressed frustration at the extended delay in deciding the fate of the officer, which highlights a significant flaw in the way NSW deals with police misconduct.
Footage of the officer repeatedly hitting the youth with a baton in the early hours of January 11, 2018 was aired on national television.
The teenager suffered broken ribs, and multiple bruises and abrasions during the incident, which also took a severe psychological toll.
The incident became the subject of a public inquiry by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) which ultimately found that the senior constable, known as ‘Officer E’, struck the teenager 19 times with his baton, including a number of times while the youth was handcuffed.
The LECC found that this constituted ‘an inappropriate use of excessive force’ and referred the matter to the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions (NSW DPP) with a recommendation to consider charging Officer E with assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
However, despite the passing of many months, there is still no indication from the DPP whether or not it will lay charges, much to the frustration of community members and the police themselves.
‘We’ve been waiting nine months to find out whether this officer is going to be charged and I’d like to know why it’s taking so long,’ local youth advocate Niqui Yazdi said.
‘The family has a right to have their day in court – some kind of justice for their son.
‘The Byron community also lost a lot of faith in the police as a result of this incident, and they want to see action taken to stop acts of violence against young people.’
Fellow youth advocate James Wright, 23, said the situation highlighted a flaw in the way police misconduct was dealt with in NSW.
‘The LECC does a great job of investigating incidents like this, but it has no power to move anything on to charges,’ he said.
‘All it can do is pass things on to prosecutors. There’s very clear evidence that the officer acted well beyond his powers’.
Byron’s most senior police officer, detective inspector Matthew Kehoe, said it wasn’t just the community that was frustrated by the delay from the NSW DPP.
‘It’s very difficult for that particular officer – he hasn’t got a determination,’ Inspector Kehoe said.
‘It’s also frustrating for Byron police as a whole. Having an officer on administrative duties, which is what this officer has been placed on pending the DPP’s decision, impacts on the overall police responsibilities in the area.
‘It’s not good for the family, it’s not good for the police and it’s not good for the public. We all deserve to know the outcome.’
A spokesperson for the LECC said the body was not in a position to indicate when a decision would be made about charges against Officer E.
‘The LECC does not have the power to commence proceedings for an offence, unless the DPP has advised the LECC in writing that prosecution may be commenced,’ the spokesperson said.
‘The LECC has referred an advisory brief of evidence to the DPP and is awaiting the advice of that office. No further comment will be made until that advice is received.’