Aboriginal man refused treatment during ‘unlawful arrest’

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Mr Marsh made requests to see a nurse before being taken to a cell an searched.

AN Aboriginal man was denied treatment after he was pepper sprayed in the face during an arrest that has since been labelled unlawful in court. 

Police arrested the man, Luke Marsh, in May last year for being drunk and disorderly, and pepper sprayed him as he sat handcuffed in the back of a police van.

Mr Marsh was cleared of nearly all charges in early March after Magistrate Jane Campbell found that his arrest was unjustified and unlawful. 

CCTV footage obtained by “CityNews” shows Mr Marsh asking police for a nurse to treat his face because of the pepper spray and also for an an Indigenous Liaison Officer (ILO) to support him.

In the footage, which was also played in court, Mr Marsh described a burning face, requesting a nurse before saying: “I can’t breathe properly.”

Both requests were pre-emptively dismissed by police and Mr Marsh was seen being frog marched to a cell and held down on the floor by four officers while being searched by other officers. 

Mr Marsh was seen trying to wash the pepper spray out on his own.

Following the body search he was left alone in his cell and is observed attempting to treat his face with water from a sink.

He is also observed on numerous occasions activating the bell in his cell in a vain attempt at attracting the attention and support of relevant officers at the police station. 

The incident comes weeks after a report titled, “ACT Policing’s administrative framework for engagement with the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community”, made nine recommendations around ACT policing’s administration processes.

Informed by complaints to the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the recommendations went to four themes of good administration, including: a strong governance framework that supports the delivery of program commitments; policies and procedures that clearly articulate expectations; transparency and accountability with the community; and, the ability to measure and evaluate success.

Following the report, chief police officer for the ACT Neil Gaughan acknowledged that police engagement with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community can always be improved.

Julie Tongs.

But Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Service CEO Julie Tongs says if ACT Policing mean what it said following the release of the Ombudsman’s Report then the least that the Minister for Police, Mick Gentleman, or the chief police officer could do is publicly apologise to Mr Marsh for the way he was treated.

When ACT Policing was asked if Mr Marsh would receive an apology after the incident, the question was ignored and instead a spokesman said that ACT Policing is satisfied that the actions of officers were in line with its policies and procedures.

The spokesman notes that upon arrival at the watch house, the detainee was provided with appropriate decontamination equipment immediately after he was removed from the police vehicle.

However, this was not seen in the video.

As for Mr Marsh’s requests to see a nurse, the spokesman said officers are trained in first-aid to provide immediate care to people in custody, and people in the watch house also have access to medical assistance from a nurse when requested or required.

“Due to the man’s escalating behaviour during his time in the Watch House, and with consideration for the safety of a nurse, the man’s condition was closely monitored by CCTV and regular attendances by officers,” he said.

Minister apologises for ‘unacceptable’ police treatment


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