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.
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”.
“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.