An investigation by Western Australia’s corruption watchdog has found two WA Police officers engaged in serious misconduct — and one used excessive force — when arresting a man in a public car park in 2019.
- The report found the arrested man likely lost consciousness
- He also waited more than an hour to receive medical treatment
- The CCC found there were also errors and omissions in paperwork
The Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) report found the arrested man likely lost consciousness and received lacerations, scratches, a black eye and other bruising in the incident which happened in the early hours of November 10, 2019.
An aggressive altercation began between two groups of people in an open-air car park on Roe Street in Northbridge and police officers initially placed a woman, referred to as Ms Y, under arrest for disorderly conduct.
The CCC report found the woman’s friend, referred to as Mr A, was first noticed by Senior Constable Valleekanthan as he was arresting Ms Y.
Man arrested for disorderly behaviour
Senior Constable Valleekanthan gave evidence that Mr A was shouting and swearing, and was filming Ms Y’s arrest on his mobile phone.
He said he approached Mr A and told him he was under arrest, saying he decided to arrest Mr A for disorderly behaviour.
Mr A has since pleaded guilty to that charge and been fined in the Perth Magistrates Court.
The CCC found the arrest of Mr A was lawful, but there was no evidence Mr A had been told why he was under arrest.
The report found Senior Constable Valleekanthan had initially taken out his pepper spray but put it back in the pouch on his belt because Mr A’s behaviour at that time was not threatening.
During the incident, Senior Constable Valleekanthan was walking toward Mr A who was retreating toward a wire fence.
Senior Constable Valleekanthan said he wanted to turn Mr A around and used a “seatbelt hold” to try and forcibly move him to the centre of the car park closer to Ms Y.
Body camera was not turned on
Senior Constable Valleekanthan gave evidence he felt Mr A’s arm move, and said he thought Mr A was trying to get him in a headlock.
Video footage from one of Mr A’s friends shows Senior Constable Valleekanthan using a neck restraint known as a lateral vascular neck restraint (LVNR), which the CCC said was used to escort the arrested suspect.
Senior Constable Valleekanthan said he was applying pressure from his chest onto Mr A’s back to move him forward.
The report also said Senior Constable Valleekanthan had recently been issued with a body worn camera but did not activate it during the incident, until it self-activated when he was standing behind Mr A applying the neck restraint.
The pair struggled for a few seconds before Mr A fell to the ground with the officer on top of him.
“The body worn camera lens then becomes unobscured and Mr A is shown lying prone with his head face down on the ground, motionless with his left hand limp. Mr A then lifts his head and appears dazed,” the report said.
“Mr A’s head struck the bitumen of the car park. His fall forward appeared unsupported.
“Mr A does not appear to have attempted to extend his arms to break his fall, which indicates that he may have been unconscious at the time.”
First Class Constable Harrison, the other officer who initially responded, said the neck hold was not a standard WA Police hold.
Senior Constable Valleekanthan did not accept he applied significant pressure to Mr A’s neck, saying there was a gap between his forearm and the man’s neck, but the CCC rejected that assertion.
“The evidence suggests that significant force was applied,” the report said.
Friend’s move on notice not supported
Another friend of the group was also issued a move on order for engaging in disorderly conduct, but the commission found there was no proper basis for that, finding it amounted to serious misconduct.
First Class Constable Harrison contended that the female friend, referred to as Ms X, was making the incident difficult by ‘not listening to instructions to move away, coming back, interrupting and asking questions’, which he said was sufficient to issue the order.
“If Ms X, by remaining near Mr A, obstructed officers, that action would be a basis for 1/C Harrison to issue a move on order,” the report said.
“However, the footage reviewed by the Commission does not support that contention.
Other serious misconduct risks identified
The CCC said the initial “Use of Force” report submitted by Senior Constable Valleekanthan only recorded the use of a seatbelt hold and an attempt to place Mr A’s arms behinds his back but made no mention of the use of a neck restraint.
Questions were also raised over the adequacy of medical treatment given to Mr A, as well as the official records entered into the police dispatch system.
The CCC heard evidence that Mr A was not taken to Royal Perth Hospital sooner because they did not have room in the police vehicles to transport him, and they believed an ambulance had been called.
“The custody record showed Mr A as being in custody for only one minute at 3:17am … [but] Mr A had been in custody from his arrest about 2:00am,” the report said.
“Mr A was in custody for much longer than was acceptable.
“Had Mr A suffered significant adverse effects from his injuries before he got to hospital, the consequence of the inaccuracy of the custody record could have been significant.
“1/C Harrison entered the custody record on the system but could not say why he did not enter the correct custody time or why the release location was set as the Roe Street car park when he was physically released at Royal Perth Hospital.”
The Commission said while it agreed the situation was difficult, a neck restraint should only be used in very limited circumstances.
“Mr A did not try to escape. He was not resisting arrest. He was not threatening,” the report said.
The CCC said the opinion that serious misconduct occurred is not a finding that someone has committed a criminal offence.