Goulburn police officer cleared of assaulting Indigenous detainee

Hannah Sparks17 February 2021
Senior Constable Murray and Patrick Little

Senior Constable Murray pushes Indigenous man Patrick Little against a wall while in his custody. Image: Screenshot.

A Goulburn policeman has been cleared of assaulting an Indigenous man in his custody, with a judge finding his actions were “appropriate” at the time.

Senior Constable James Iain Murray, 38, of Crookwell was convicted of two counts of common assault in October 2020.

The charges stemmed from an incident that arose after Senior Constable Murray arrested the then 18-year-old Patrick Little on 12 January 2019 for fighting with his cousin outside a Goulburn Club. Mr Little was charged and pleaded guilty to affray.

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Footage obtained by the ABC’s 7:30 program showed that while in custody, Senior Constable Murray pushed Mr Little against a wall while holding the back of his neck with his right hand and threw him to the floor before dragging him into a cell.

The bottom half of Mr Little’s body hit the side of a cell door as he was thrown to the ground.

Initially, the footage showed Mr Little walking out of the police vehicle voluntarily. It wasn’t clear from the footage why Senior Constable Murray suddenly pushed Mr Little against the wall.

However, Senior Constable Murray maintained his innocence throughout last year’s court proceedings and said that while the footage did not look good, it did not tell the whole story.

Senior Constable Murray claimed there was ongoing resistance and violence from Mr Little.

It was this argument that resulted in a successful appeal in Goulburn District Court on Tuesday, 16 February.

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Judge Mark Williams said there was “significant evidence” that Mr Little had resisted and that Senior Constable Murray had applied the “appropriate force”.

However, Goulburn’s Aboriginal community says it’s “saddened” and “distressed” by the court’s decision.

A statement read by Pejar Local Aboriginal Land Council CEO Delise Freeman said the decision “sets out a precedent that this kind of behaviour towards Aboriginal people will be tolerated”.

Patrick Little being thrown to the floor

Patrick Little’s lower body hits the side of a cell door as he is thrown to the floor.

“It breaks trust because the very people who are meant to serve and protect us and uphold the law are the ones who are harming us and getting away with it,” the statement claimed.

“How is the Aboriginal community meant to build a positive relationship with the police force when their actions and inactions have shown a continuous indifference to the treatment of Aboriginal people in custody?”

Ms Freeman said Goulburn’s Aboriginal community found it hard to believe Senior Constable Murray wasn’t wrong from watching the video.

“A conviction in this situation could have created actual change, it could have been a deterrent to show other officers that this behaviour won’t be tolerated, that there would be consequences,” she said.

What's Your Opinion?

5 Responses to Goulburn police officer cleared of assaulting Indigenous detainee

Miah jones Miah jones 10:00 am 19 Feb 21

Interesting that there’s no mention that Patrick little had been fighting with his cousin and punched a women in the breast, grappled with her and ultimatelyand injured that female officer just moments before being arrested. Violence against women is being ignored in this situation because it’s an Aboriginal man v a white cop and that makes good news.

Danae Thorp Danae Thorp 11:00 am 18 Feb 21

Absolutely disgusting. I find the footage sickening. The police officer is a thud.

Peter Quin Peter Quin 7:33 pm 17 Feb 21

From the video footage it appears that Senior Constable Murray was a much more powerful man than Patrick Little and threw him about like a rag doll, showing no restraint whatsoever. In short, for the period shown in the video he appeared to behave like a common thug who had lost his temper. One would hope that a police officer, particularly one of considerable experience, would show more self-control, even if considerably provoked. For Judge Mark Williams to say that there was “significant evidence” that Mr Little had resisted, to me does not justify the use of unnecessarily excessive force. If the Judge thinks so, he obviously has a very different view of the world than I do, a view that I should add has not been formed over nearly seven decades by having led a sheltered life.

LilasMonniot-Kerr LilasMonniot-Kerr 6:21 pm 17 Feb 21

THis is DISGUSTING. I screamed when I saw the video. This police officer is OUT OF CONTROL. How can police think it’s ok to treat people with such violence and disdain. If you don’t like your job officer, go and find another one.
As a teacher and a parent, I am APPAULED by the officer’s behaviour and even more APPAULED that Judge Mark Williams decided it was ok to acquit Constable Murray.
It makes me MAD and I am so SAD to be an Australian when I see such footage.

    J Hardy J Hardy 7:29 am 20 Feb 21


    That correction aside, I too think this is a bad decision and the Officer should be disciplined.

    I do acknowledge it’s not a pleasant job and both parties should apologise.