An experienced WA police officer who tasered and shoved a driver during a random breath test has been found guilty of two counts of common assault.
Senior Constable Grantley Keenan, 46, claimed he was acting out of fear when he pulled out then fired the taser at James Bartlett who was pulled over by police for a routine traffic stop at a car park in Fremantle in March 2017.
The experienced officer claimed he though he might be run over by Mr Bartlett’s car’s “monster” wheels after the driver “rapidly accelerated and stopped just short of him”.
During the trial in April, the court was told Mr Bartlett was on his way to dinner with his wife and a friend when they were directed to a car park for a random breath test.
A junior officer spoke to Mr Bartlett and issued his car with a yellow sticker for having oversized wheels, a cracked windscreen and a light bar installed on the vehicle’s roof.
The officer was about to let Mr Bartlett go when Snr Const Keenan walked over to “have words” with him.
Snr Const Keenan claimed Mr Bartlett then flashed the light bar twice, causing a painful “temporary flash blindness“.
After the junior constable told Mr Bartlett he could go, he reversed but Sen Const Keenan told him to stop, saying he then became concerned for his junior colleague, who was in front of the car as it “rapidly accelerated and stopped just short of him”.
However Sen Const Keenan didn’t shout out to his colleague to move or ask for the keys, instead opening the driver’s side door and reaching in to remove them, which Mr Bartlett prevented by clamping his hand down.
The officer claims he then feared he would be struck by the big tyres, which protruded from the sides of the Jeep, if it moved.
“I was in a pretty precarious situation … I would have been dragged under it,” Sen. Const. Keenan said.
The officer claimed Mr Bartlett reached over to manipulate the gearstick but admitted he already had his Taser drawn at that stage.
Sen Const Keenan said he repeatedly warned the driver he was about to be tasered and told him to let go before pulling the trigger.
He said he decided against using a baton because he was in a confined space or pepper spray as there were others in the vehicle.
Today, Magistrate Elaine Campione handed down her decision saying that she did not find Snr Const Keenan to be credible, reliable or “a truthful witness”.
She said the determinative factor for her in coming to her decision was the video footage of the incident, which she had watched “on a number of occasions, including frame by frame.”
“The accused attempted to pull the door open with his right hand and reach in with the key in the ignition barrel with his left hand,” she said.
“His evidence that he knew how to get the key out is untruthful. He clearly had difficulties and ended up breaking the key.
“The video is informative of the accused’s state of mind.
“I do not accept that the accused held a belief that the constable was at risk or in danger from the complainant.
“The accused’s description of the vehicle as ‘massive’, a ‘monster car with huge wheels’ and ‘attention seeking’ is all self-serving.
“The accused had no power or justification to stop the vehicle, open the door or attempt to take the keys. He essentially invaded the complainant’s vehicle.
“Notably despite the words aimed at him and copping the flashed lights it was the evidence of Stanojevic that he did not know why the accused was trying to stop the vehicle.
“That leads to a conclusion that he did not feel threatened or unsafe, despite him being at the front of the vehicle.
“In fact Stanojevic was not at risk when the accused stopped the vehicle.
“The weight of the evidence does not support a conclusion that the accused held a subjective belief that his colleague was in harm’s way.”
Following a request from prosecutors Magistrate Campione agreed to adjourn sentencing until June 10.
Following the decision, WA Police Union President Harry Arnott said the union was disappointed with the outcome and would be standing by Snr Constable Keenan.
“The ramifications of this decision will be felt across every police jurisdiction in Australia and we will vigorously pursue all avenues of appeal to ensure that justice is served,” he said.