POLICE Minister Mick Gentleman has apologised for the “unacceptable treatment” of an Aboriginal man during an unlawful arrest in May last year.
Mr Gentleman made the apology after Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Service CEO Julie Tongs said that Mr Gentleman or chief police officer Neil Gaughan should publicly apologise to the man, Luke Marsh, who was denied medical treatment after he was pepper sprayed in the face during an arrest that has since been labelled unlawful in court.
While Mr Gaughan did not release an apology, Mr Gentleman did, but noted that the matter involving Mr Marsh’s arrest is still being reviewed.
“I am advised this matter is being considered under ACT Policing’s Professional Standards framework,” Mr Gentleman said, in regards to the initial arrest of Mr Marsh.
However, an ACT police spokesman said that ACT Policing is satisfied that the actions of officers were in line with its policies and procedures regarding his treatment in the watch house.
Police arrested Mr 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”, show 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.
Of the incident, Mr Gentleman said: “ACT Policing are required to exercise their powers, conduct themselves in accordance with their legal obligations, and uphold the standards expected of them by the community and the government.
“This is especially important when police interact with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, who are overrepresented in our justice system.
“I apologise to Luke for this unacceptable treatment.”
The ACT spokesman, who did not offer an apology to Mr Marsh, noted that upon arrival at the watch house, the detainee was provided with appropriate decontamination equipment immediately after he was removed from the police vehicle.
As for Mr Marsh’s requests to see a nurse, he 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.