Five officers have been cleared of wrongdoing by the independent police watchdog over their arrest of an Aboriginal teenager in western Sydney, during which the boy’s cheek was “torn apart”.
The 14-year-old boy sustained very serious injuries and required surgery for a deep laceration to his face after he was arrested with four other people on August 18, 2020 following the police pursuit of a stolen vehicle.
A year-long investigation by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission has found the boy should not have been tackled or hit by police, but the officers involved did not commit misconduct despite using a “significant” amount of force on him.
The boy, referred to as ‘KROI’ in the report, alleged officers repeatedly kicked and punched him, as well as hitting him in the face and head with their police radios.
The LECC begun its inquiry after Family and Community Services submitted a complaint to NSW Police of an alleged police assault.
The LECC report, tabled in NSW parliament on Tuesday, found the boy’s injuries were a result of being tackled and falling with the officer against a shipping container with metal handles and hinges.
The commission said it was “regrettable” that none of the police officers involved were wearing body-worn cameras.
It also found police did not mention any use of force in their report of the arrest, saying this was a “significant omission” but not a case of “maladministration”.
The report found the boy ran from the car after it was pulled over until he was cornered by police near a group of shipping containers.
The “skinny” 60kg teenager was tackled by a 183cm, 105kg officer, causing him to fall heavily against the shipping container with the full weight of the man behind him, causing serious injury to his face.
Another police officer then struck the boy three times on his back and shoulders with a closed fist, “possibly” causing injury to his face when it came into contact with the ground as a result of that force.
“To KROI this may well have felt like he was being punched and attacked by several police officers, possibly with police radios,” the report said.
“Any struggling and screaming done by KROI following his being tackled by Officer KR06 can only be considered a reasonable reaction to having his cheek torn apart on the container.”
The LECC found the boy should not have been struck, or tackled, as he was effectively surrounded by officers and had no means of escape.
However, the commission said it was satisfied the injuries caused to the boy were not inflicted intentionally or as a result of unreasonable use of force.
The LECC recommended greater use of body-worn video and said officers should take photos of arrest sites in similar circumstances to help with any future investigations.
The report also said there was a lack of command and control of the arrest and recommended NSW Police review how responsibilities are handled when multiple teams were involved.
NSW Police on Tuesday noted the release of the LECC report, with a spokesman saying they would consider its contents and recommendations.