Tuesday, January 15, 2013
CMC says police officer got off lightly after 'forgetting' to act on tip-off
Qld. Police negligence leads to death
THE CMC has accused the police service of failing to appropriately discipline an officer whose inaction may have contributed to the death of a missing man.
Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal documents show that Barry Powell, 64, was still alive and would have been for at least another 24 hours when a local rang police to report sighting an abandoned vehicle at Wyandra in the state's southwest that belonged to Mr Powell on December 6, 2009.
His body was eventually discovered nearby in dense bushland five days later.
The temperature at the time the vehicle was abandoned was about 40C. He had been travelling with his dog, a black labrador, and at the time temperatures soared to more than 40C.
An internal police investigation found officer-in-charge of Augathella station, Sergeant Andrew Ernest Thomas, "failed to take appropriate action" after he was told of an abandoned vehicle.
"At about 8.30am on the 11th of December 2009 the body of Barry Frederick Powell was located in bushland approximately 650m northeast from his vehicle," Deputy Commissioner Ross Barnett said in a notice of formal finding dated November 20, 2012, lodged in QCAT.
"It is estimated Mr Powell was alive until the morning of December 8 2009."
Mr Barnett said Sgt Thomas failed to investigate or consider the likelihood that a person who abandoned the vehicle might need assistance and the consequences of them not receiving any, particularly after being "exposed to such environmental conditions".
Sgt Thomas received a two-year suspended sentence, so if any further acts of misconduct were committed, he would be demoted from sergeant to senior constable.
Sgt Thomas did not report the phone call to Charleville CIB until December 10 and a massive search involving SES and police on foot, horseback and motorcycles followed.
"Subsequent inquiries with the family of Mr Powell indicate that he was travelling from Western Australia to his residence in Hervey Bay following surgery," QCAT documents state.
"It is apparent from the evidence contained in the brief that Mr Powell was taking a considerable amount of medication for a number of pre-existing medical conditions."
In the hearing, Sgt Thomas said he "banged" his head on an airconditioner and forgot as other things "simply overtook" his mind.
He also argued the information he received related only "to a vehicle on the side of a road, not to a missing person" and he did not accept that a "sufficient nexus" existed between his failure to take appropriate action and Mr Powell's death.
"It logically follows that had you taken steps to have the report investigated, Mr Powell would have been located some time on 8th of December 2011," Mr Barnett stated in the disciplinary hearing.
However, due to the cause of death being undetermined and a ruling by the entomologist that the mPMI (minimum post-mortem interval) could not be provided because of "gross deficiencies in the collection of original evidence", Mr Barnett said he was unable to find clear "causal connection" between Sgt Thomas' inaction and Mr Powell's death.
The CMC argued to QCAT that the sanction did "not adequately reflect the gravity of the misconduct", which included a failure by Sgt Thomas to "protect the public, uphold ethical standards within units of public administration, and promote and maintain public confidence in the QPS".
Sgt Thomas was transferred from Augathella to Toowoomba in January 2010. QPS declined to comment while the matter was before QCAT.
The case is one of four appeals of QPS disciplinary decisions by the CMC before QCAT.
They include Constable Anthony Richard Francis, who was demoted after being found guilty of improper access to and disclosure of confidential police information, several conflicts of interest, failing to report misconduct by another officer and urinating on a police vehicle he was using as a "blue light taxi" after a boozy night out.
QCAT is due to make a decision on those matters next month.
The CMC won a landmark legal ruling last year when it was determined in Brisbane's Court of Appeal it had the authority to intervene if it considered police had not been properly punished by internal discipline.
The appeal court upheld the CMC's appeal which found QPS' punishment of an officer whose involvement in a high-speed car chase ended with the death of a bikie manifestly inadequate.
A date for the Sgt Thomas hearing is yet to be set but a compulsory conference is set for March 6.