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June 4, 2023

Northern Rivers policeman accused of youth assault acquitted

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Former Byron officer Senior Constable Michial Luke Greenhalgh (Left) leaving Lismore Local Court

Mia Armitage

Magistrate Michael Dakin has ordered a common assault charge against a former Byron-based policeman be dropped after an altercation involving a naked youth in Byron Bay three years ago.

Earlier this week, the Department of Public Prosecutions [DPP] argued Senior Constable Michial Luke Greenhalgh had entered a state of ‘red mist’ when he struck the boy, who he says he didn’t realise was sixteen, a final six times with his baton.

DPP’s Brittany Parker. Photo supplied.

Prosecutor Brittany Parker said ‘red mist’ was a state of frustration that could manifest suddenly in a sufferer focussing excessively on a particular target and exercising poor judgment.

Video footage of the altercation between the boy, who can’t be named for legal reasons, and four senior constables based at the time at Byron Bay police station made national headlines in early 2018 and was used as evidence in both a Law Enforcement Conduct Commission [LECC] inquiry and a subsequent criminal trial of one of the four officers.

It’s all about the beat: baton strike pattern shows officer kept cool

The footage, taken from a balcony overlooking Lateen Lane in Byron’s CBD, revealed Senior Constable Michial Luke Greenhalgh struck the naked and unarmed boy eighteen times of a total nineteen baton strikes delivered.

The final six blows were under scrutiny in the trial, with the DPP arguing they were an unreasonable use of force and therefore assault.

Prosecutor Brittany Parker said in her closing statement the strikes were excessive, born out of irrational anger and achieved no purpose.

‘He was in no way able to get up or escape,’ Ms Parker said of the boy, ‘he was not acting violently… he was merely asking for help and water’.

She said it appeared police believed the boy would be violent.

But Magistrate Dakin has found in favour of Sen-Constable Greenhalgh, noting the final six strikes weren’t delivered in quick succession but rather, were metred out in a series as follows: three strikes, then two, then one.

The magistrate said the decreasing pattern supported the officer’s assertion he was making calculated, albeit spontaneous decisions in response to his situation.

Brent Haverfield was the barrister representing Senior Constable Michial Greenhalgh. Photo supplied.

Drink-spiking ‘seen too often’ in Byron Bay, says magistrate

The officer, who worked at Byron Bay police station for eight years until 2019, testified he’d constantly assessed and re-assessed the detention in Lateen Lane as it unfolded in accordance with his training.

Officers had variously described the naked boy as sweating profusely and said trying to restrain him was like picking up wet soap.

They said he appeared to be drug-affected and the magistrate said drink spiking was ‘seen too often’ in Byron Bay.

The boy had earlier testified accepting a single beer from some strangers in Apex Park, overlooking Byron’s Main Beach, the night before he ended up in Tweed Hospital after an altercation with police in Lateen Lane and about an hour in a holding cell.

He said when he described seeing lights to the group of people he was hanging out with at the beach, they simply fell silent other than to giggle.

The footage of Byron police beating a 16-year-old in a laneway in Byron Bay in January that led to the investigation.

Night out in Byron Bay ends in crisis for teenager

Some time between two and three am the following day, a backpackers’ hostel manager would call his company’s security, only to call Byron Bay police when his first call was unanswered.

The manager had received reports of a naked male wandering the lane and calling out.

Only a few weeks prior, a shirtless male had smashed a police car windscreen in an outburst attributed to drugs at Byron’s lighthouse.

Officers had described a feeling of being on edge.

Two cars responded to the Lateen Lane call and Senior Constable Michial Greenhalgh drove one of them, the one that arrived first.

He told the court he remembered seeing a naked male about twenty metres away after pulling up and that he thought the male was around twenty years old.

Just hours earlier, the magistrate recalled in his case summary, the boy had gained his mother’s permission to attend a youth silent disco but never made it.

The family were holidaying in Byron at the time.

Police tactical ops manual v baton manual

Soon after arriving in Lateen Lane, Sen-Constable Greenhalgh said, the officer saw the naked man swing a ‘hay-maker’ punch at his colleague, who warned of a ‘gobfull of this’, referring to capsicum spray, if the man didn’t calm down.

Officers progressively used capsicum spray, a taser and batons against the youth and the defence argued he was continuously shifting between ‘under’ their control and ‘out of’ their control throughout the detention.

The official police tactical operations manual was referred to in the trial in support of defence arguments outlining acceptable uses of force by officers in Lateen Lane.

Later the prosecution referred to a manual on baton use that omitted any mention of using the device on someone lying on the ground as opposed to someone standing up.

In his case summary on day six of hearings, Magistrate Michael Dakin took into account the positive character testimonies shared in court by some of the defendant’s former Byron Bay police colleagues.

The magistrate noted how Senior Constable Greenhalgh was generally described as an officer of ‘exemplary’ performance and had never had a negative report filed against him.

Magistrate rules out ‘red mist’ theory

The magistrate noted how police didn’t call for an ambulance to Lateen Lane despite acknowledging the boy ‘needed help’ and instead decided he was best taken in the police wagon to the station where he was later held pending the arrival of an ambulance.

He commented that one of the four officers to have testified, Sen-Constable Mark Sims, appeared ‘off-handed’ and ‘flippant’ in his responses to questions during a cross-examination and was ‘smirking’ in the witness box.

But the magistrate also commented on how the Crown took issue with the final six blows happening while the youth was naked, unarmed and lying on the ground when the previous thirteen strikes appeared to have happened under the same circumstances.

Each strike, he noted, is alleged to have happened alongside a verbal police command.

He also noted that none of the witnesses saw the entire incident and the defence argument that memories had been ‘reconstructed’ thanks to repeated viewings of the video footage.

The magistrate said the pattern of the final six strikes ruled out the theory of Senior Constable Michial Greenhalgh having experienced so-called ‘red mist’ and dismissed the assault charge against him.

The boy’s family have said they plan to seek advice on human rights law in relation to the matter.

The DPP and the defence both declined to comment after this week’s proceedings.

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  1. Goodness me! I am genuinely surprised that Sen-Constable Greenhalgh was not given (as yet) a medal of valour for taking on such a dangerous criminal! I mean, what other option was there but to beat the crap out a psychotic naked teenager who, despite being double handcuffed, might well have used something horrible, like sarcasm, to inflict deadly harm to the 6 coppers trying to restrain him. I wonder if they had anemia? Anyway …

    I mean, look at the RISK faced by the poor defenceless cops! Just 6 carefully, scientifically metred baton strikes? For all we know, that teenager was a black belt in 17 different martial arts! His penis might have been a rocket launcher after surreptitious genetic modification! His anus might well have similarly been modified to drop bombs of the real kind. LOOK AT THE RISK TO SOCIETY! Here was a bloody potential terrorist ! He was naked so it was entirely reasonable to suspect he was planning to blow up Byron.

    As well, and thankfully, Magistrate Dakin reinforced by his decision what we all need: a model of law enforcement based on naked (sic) violence given tht every citizen, naked or otherwise, is a potential terrorist and must be beaten to an inch of their lives in the public interest.

    Bravo Magistrate Dakin, and congrats Mr. policeman. I am glad I am safe in our community.

  2. Now before every Hippie that has an issue with the Police starts carrying on, contemplate this. When your house or car gets broken into, who do you call. When your sister or daughter is harassed, who do you call, when some grubby back packer gets full of booze and starts belting your son, who do you call, when some meth fueled crackhead shows superhuman strength and takes out the security guards or the medical assistance, who do you call? you call the same people that work shit hours, for shit money, get abused and spat at on a weekly basis to protect the public. everyone wants to get smashed on booze, drugs etc and live a free and easy life without consequence and then call the cops when it goes to shit. I for one am happy the officer got off. I’m sure others will consider this differently. and yes I did consider this might have been my son. His actions were not the police’s doing.

    • OH Come On Flat-head !
      Anybody with an ounce of sense or experience with these thugs, knows full-well that last thing you need in a crisis are the “wallopers”
      and I think the one who called the police bears some responsibility for this shocking crime against a defenseless child.
      You can’t expect any better from the cops or judges. Cheers G”)

  3. No comments on this blatant injustice. Was there any research done by the DPP to learn of the precedents set in the Byron Shire Police v Citizens that set to provide legal grounds for cultural thinking and ‘gang’ mentality that evidently exists??? No is the only answer that stands truth. People ask why police are ‘on edge’, look at the track record.

    • Happy to bring forth evidence to back my statement and hopefully avoid US style killings of citizens in AUS. This needs to go much further than the small town justice of ‘The Bay’. People are actually dying.
      Facebook or Twitter me.

  4. Astounding what people can get away with. Embarrassing and violation of human rights to say the least. A great precedence has been set for our youth and public in general. For the police- do what you want and hire a great barrister!

  5. In my view this outcome highlights a corruption of integrity and truth. A tip of the iceberg of the worst of the human condition infested in people that we should be able to respect due to their public responsibilities. Is there any reason ever for a police officer to behave that way, “red mist” or not. If he is susceptible to such a BS condition then maybe he is not fit to be a police officer. Is “red mist” now an acceptable excuse for any type of gross misbehavior? This decision seriously undermines respect for the police and those who are charged with making fair and just decisions on behalf of the people.

  6. So it appears credibility in our legal system and the police has been shattered with this verdict. It also reaffirms that the police are to be feared as bully boys rather than seen as protecters of law and order. You would think police and legal system would disassociate themselves with this kind of brutal abuse of police power. Looks like the police are not our friends and the image of a brutal police force battering a defenceless youth remains prominent . I can’t see how this verdict helps our community or respect of our police or legal system one bit. It also makes the job of any good cops in the force much harder.

    • Absolutely agree….seven with clear footage of the abuse this verdict is demonstrative of the clear message ‘if you have a police hat on you can beat whoever you like with no consequence’. If the ‘senior constable’ did conduct himself in full control of his behaviour then this surely demonstrates he has sociopathic tendencies. Why else would you truss ay youth up and beat him ‘in a controlled way??’ He clearly was no physical threat.
      Unbelievable outcome indeed. Very disturbing and creates a vote of no confidence in the judicial system of this country.

  7. In response to “Flounder” OMG you are floundering….obviously if your car or home is broken into you call the police OH Derr , that’s THEIR job. What has that got to do with bashing a 16 yr old teenager, naked (obviously unarmed) calling for help & water? You can’t tell me 4 cops can’t restrain a young skinny youth, after capsicum spraying him, taser & bashing the crap out of him some 19 times. Remember he was also double handcuffed, reckon as a reasonably fit older woman I could have restrained him. Additionally, the cops DID NOT call an ambulance which they should have done at this violent scene, created by those who are supposed to protect us.. DID THIS TEENAGER SUFFER ANY BRAIN DAMAGE & MIGHT THIS BE DETECTED IN 5 YRS TIME? If I was his parents I would appeal & not settle for this grave injustice. How could any judge deem this level of abuse OK , simply because the cop in question refrained from repeated blows after the first 6 ? PLEASE EXPLAIN? By the way “Flounder” as a proud “hippie” my God daughter is a cop & I can tell you she earns a brilliant hefty salary, so get your facts straight.

    • Yep, I think you’re right on reflection @lindy – four Police officers definitely set out to harm a child who you would have capably restrained. I hope you stay well clear of you God daughter too – she is one of them now.

  8. Take a look at the copper… 6ft 4 by the looks and 120kgs. Any belts by him would create serious injury. Particularly naked, unarmed and handcuffed. A precedent has been set. You are now able to be belted numerous times – excessively – by these copper thugs – and there is nothing you can do about it. Deakin, your unjust attitude to youth hasn’t changed it seems.

  9. Not surprised by this result. Dakin is an ex-cop who would prefer to preserve the appearance of proprietary on the part of police than discover truth and deliver justice.

  10. The prosecution should appeal this travesty of justice but they won’t, because they’re all on the same team.


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