A police officer has been caught on tape grabbing, shoving and verbally abusing a teenage boy in the Alice Springs watch house, before threatening to “belt the f–k out” of three others.
Footage obtained by the ABC after a lengthy Freedom of Information battle shows what the public sector watchdog said “substantially exceeded” appropriate police conduct in the handling of a group of Aboriginal boys arrested for stealing a car and leading police on a chase.
The CCTV footage, recorded in March 2018, shows one officer twisting a boy’s arm around his back and pushing him into the charge counter while calling him a “c–t” and “a f–king waste of space”.
The officer then tells the other young people being held he is “in the mood to lose his job” if they refuse to comply with his directions.
The incident took place less than six months after the end of a royal commission into youth justice that was sparked by revelations about the mistreatment of young people in the Northern Territory’s youth detention system.
The NT Ombudsman said two officers involved were the subject of disciplinary proceedings but NT Police say they are legally unable to say what action was taken, if any.
The head lawyer at the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, David Woodroffe, called on NT Police to condemn the incident but they refused to do so.
Mr Woodroffe said the footage raised questions about the extent of cultural change after the royal commission.
“It is totally unacceptable,” he said.
“It is behaviour that needs to be condemned at the very highest level at the NT Police, to publicly come out and say, ‘This is not acceptable’.”
‘I’m in the mood to lose my job’
The footage obtained shows the watch house processing of five boys, aged between 12 and 16, after their arrest in relation to the police pursuit of a stolen car.
Several officers are involved asking the boys questions for custody health checks and directing them to remove shoes and clothing.
While two officers are standing over one of the boys at the charge counter and giving orders, the teenager, who has his hands on the counter and is stepping out of shorts, mumbles: “I’d smack you in the head every day.”
That comment prompted the officer on the boy’s right to grab the boy’s arm and twist it around his back, pushing the boy’s head down to the counter, as the second officer asks “did you threaten me?”
“Every day? Every day? Today’s your day you little c–t. Don’t f–king put off to tomorrow what you can do today,” the first officer says.
“You can’t f–king do it, can you, because you’re a little c–t. That’s all you are.”
The same officer tells the boy he’s “a f–king waste of space” while steering him onto a bench where four others are sitting.
He says: “[Sit the] f–k down, threaten a police officer in a f–king police station, get knocked the f–k out.”
The same officer then turns and stands in front of the three other young people sitting on the bench.
“Anybody else want to be f–king smart? I’m right in the mood to lose my job tonight and I don’t mind losing it over belting the f–k out of one of you little c—s.”
A second boy is treated in a similar way a few minutes later.
NAAJA took a complaint about the incident to NT Police and then to the ombudsman.
The agency’s Mr Woodroffe said the conduct captured on tape was disturbing.
“It sends a very concerning message – that this is practice in the Northern Territory by serving police officers,” he said.
Ombudsman investigates, outcome unknown
The incident was mentioned briefly in the annual report tabled last year in NT Parliament by Ombudsman NT Peter Shoyer.
He said CCTV footage from the night “clearly shows two officers substantially exceeding the bounds of appropriate conduct … from the perspective of the force and language used and their treatment” of the young people under arrest.
Mr Shoyer declined to release the CCTV to the ABC, saying he considered his written summary adequate for the purposes of his annual report to parliament.
In the report, Mr Shoyer said two officers were subject to disciplinary proceedings by NT Police.
But the outcome of those proceedings was not included in his report and has never been made public.
A spokesman for NT Police said the Ombudsman’s Act prevents the disclosure of information relevant to the watchdog’s investigation, including the outcome of the proceedings that resulted from it.
Asked by the ABC if that interpretation of the law was correct, the office of the Ombudsman, who is also the NT’s Information Commissioner, said it was unable to say because it may have to arbitrate on that question in the event of an FOI or privacy complaint.
Mr Woodroffe said the outcome should be known so the community, “particularly the Aboriginal community”, could be reassured the response was adequate and the situation wouldn’t be repeated.
NT Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker declined multiple requests for an interview and to give a response to Mr Woodroffe’s comments.
In a statement, a spokesman for Mr Chalker said the commissioner had set a high benchmark of behaviour for NT Police “since starting [as commissioner] in November 2019”.
The statement said NT Police “are building a force that is professional and displays a culture the community can be proud of.”