Thursday, February 16, 2012

Police officers sometimes justified in punching people in the head, says Qld. Commissioner Bob Atkinson

QUEENSLAND'S top cop has declared officers can be justified in punching people in the head. Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson made the comments yesterday after The Courier-Mail revealed CCTV footage from the Surfers Paradise watchhouse showing officers allegedly assaulting 21-year-old chef and father Noa Begic.

Mr Atkinson was asked if there could be any justification for police punching someone in the head, as the footage shows. He said: "Of course ... but it would depend on the circumstances as to whether that use of force - punching someone in the head - was necessary and justifiable."

His comments were backed by Police Minister Neil Roberts. "Yes, if the action was necessary and justifiable, for example as a form of self-defence or in assisting someone else given the circumstances of the situation the officer was confronted at the time," Mr Roberts said.

But Mr Atkinson admitted some officers could become "desensitised" to violence and sometimes "their judgment can be frayed". One officer was stood aside yesterday as the Crime and Misconduct Commission stepped in to oversee the police investigation into the incident.

The Commissioner pledged a "full, complete and exhaustive investigation" but also defended his officers, saying there were many more assaults on police than there were by police on the public. [Big deal!] Mr Atkinson said an average of 600 to 700 complaints of excessive force were made against police each year, but last year 2031 officers were assaulted.

However, he said he did not believe police violence was systemic and complaints about excessive force were declining. "Things haven't gone backwards and I don't believe we're at a crisis point," he said. He would not be drawn on his reaction to the video footage, saying only that it warranted thorough investigation.

Mr Atkinson said the main officer at the centre of the Begic brutality claim had been assigned to desk duties and the CMC had joined the police Ethical Standards Command in a joint investigation.

He also said there would be a separate investigation into how The Courier-Mail obtained the video footage. Mr Atkinson said the leaking of the video was "not a whistleblower act". "There's nothing there that's exposing or uncovering anything," he said.

Australian Civil Liberties Council president Terry O'Gorman said the Begic footage was "appalling" and police brutality was continuing despite the presence of CCTV cameras. "If police are doing this when the CCTV cameras are on, what are they doing away from the cameras?" he said.

Mr O'Gorman said a number of cases of police brutality had not been satisfactorily dealt with, including the bashing of three tourists at Airlie Beach police station. He said while one officer had been jailed over the assaults, others who were present and were "clearly liable" had not been punished.

Earlier, the victim of the brutal police bashing captured on CCTV at a Gold Coast police station made the chilling claims the worst of the violence took place out of the camera's view and officers taunted him that his injuries were "merely a flesh wound".

Noa Begic, 21, was arrested in the early hours of January 29 for being a public nuisance during a night out with friends. Minutes later he was taken to the basement of Surfers Paradise police station, where surveillance footage obtained by The Courier Mail shows him being beaten bloody. A senior officer even uses a bucket to wash away a pool of Mr Begic's blood.

The chef and father-of-one has only now watched the footage for the first time. "It's pretty brutal," he said. "Unfortunately there wasn't a camera around the corner because it would have shown what happened before we came in to view. "I was already bleeding from punches when they pulled me out of the squad car.

"The part just before this video starts is where I get a few really good blows to the head so I was already quite dizzy by this stage. "By the end I was pretty relieved just to make it to the wagon to get out of their grasp."

Even after he was locked in the back of a police wagon it still wasn't over. An officer returned to deliver a few more punches and the door opens again a short time later. "He leaned in and called me racist names and said 'it was only a flesh wound'," said Mr Begic.

"By the end you can actually see a pool of blood from my nose and mouth if you look close enough. "And now you can see him washing away my blood. "At least they're covering their tracks well."


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