Investigation Of Victorian Police After Mistaken Arrest

, Investigation Of Victorian Police After Mistaken Arrest

Investigation Of Victorian Police After Mistaken Arrest

The Police Force has a Code of Practice for CRIME (Custody, Rights, Investigations, Management and Evidence). This Code provides members of the community as well as members of NSW Police Force with a succinct reference to the powers of Police when investigating offences. This is complemented by the Code of Conduct and Ethics which provides an ethical framework for Police in dealing with suspects, by reinforcing the need for all officers to act with honesty and integrity when investigating offences, and by protecting officers against false allegations of corruption. Although these Codes are in place, they are not always followed by Police. As reported on Monday, a Victorian man Nik Dimopoulos was mistakenly arrested when Police stormed into his home, forcefully detained him, broke his arm and arrested him. They unlawfully arrested him and did not comply with any of the Safeguards and Police Powers pursuant to the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (“LEPRA”). Now these Victorian Police Officers are being investigated for their actions.

THE MISTAKEN ARREST

It was reported last Saturday that, Police were searching for a man of Lebanese appearance who was responsible for a nearby carjacking. During this time, Nik Dimopoulos was inside a home at Fitzroy, above the well-known community bookshop Hares & Hyenas when police stormed in about 2am. Mr Dimopoulos, who is gay, feared he was about to become the victim of an “anti-gay home invasion” and fled. Friends say Mr Dimopoulos, who is well known as a pioneer of Melbourne’s gay dance party scene, feared he was the target of a hate crime and ran from the apartment. The Police arrested him in the street outside the property. As a result of this case of mistaken identity the victim suffered a broken arm that required surgery and there are fears he may have sustained permanent damage.

Nearby residents say heavily armed officers stormed the apartment attached to gay community bookshop and cafe Hares & Hyenas while searching for what residents were told was an “armed member of a ‘Lebanese’ gang”.

The bookshop owner, Crusader Hillis, wrote on Facebook that the officers were at the wrong property and did not identify themselves. “They just stormed into a dark room shining torches and it was impossible to identify them as police,” he wrote. Mr Hillis said Mr Dimopoulos thought “it was an anti-gay home invasion (and) rushed out the door”. The officers, including police from the heavily-armed critical incident response team, chased Mr Dimopoulos and arrested him in the gutter. “At no time did the police when they were chasing him say ‘stop, police’ as you would expect,” Mr Hillis wrote. “He could only see boots and rifles and was assuming he was going to be bashed or shot. He said he thought he was about to be killed.” Mr Dimopoulos is now in hospital, “with the likelihood of losing the use of his left arm, which is broken in several places from the shoulder down,” Mr Hillis added. “The surgeon described the injury as 12 on a scale of 1 to 10.” Surgeons were forced to insert pins into Mr Dimopoulos’ shattered arm and take bone grafts to try and repair it. Jeremy King, from Robinson Gill Lawyers, confirmed to The Age Mr Dimopoulos was “considering legal options”. “By the time I got there, he was bunched into the gutter with hands in plastic restraints,” Mr Hillis said. “There were several armed police around him, some dressed in riot gear and semi-automatic weapons.”

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius personally visited the shop on Monday to apologise to Mr Dimopoulos’ housemates. He later addressed the media telling reporters he was “deeply sorry” for what took place. “It is clear to us that our attendance at that property was a mistake,” he said. “Very clear to us that police stuffed this one up. Very clear to us that the injuries occasioned by the individual who was arrested by police. Very clear to us that those injuries are very serious and the nature of those injuries demand explanation.” He said an investigation was underway but denied the raid had anything to do with the “homophobia”. “I am confident there is no evidence that the police attendance at the premises in the early hours of the morning on Saturday at Fitzroy was in any way associated with any sort of homophobic motivation on the part of the police concerned.” The founding solicitor of the Flemington Community Legal Centre’s police accountability project, Tamar Hopkins, said “Even though brutal force of this kind is terrifying and unnecessary. But it is also standard in these high-pressure operations.”

Nik Dimopoulos’ “only crime was looking Middle Eastern” before he was arrested by police so forcefully that he may have permanent damage to his arm, according to his lawyer, Jeremy King.

POWERS OF ARREST

Section 99 of LEPRA provides general power to arrest for an offence, without a warrant.

Under section 99, a Police Officer may, without a warrant, arrest a person if:

  • They suspect on reasonable grounds that the person is committing or has committed an offence; and
  • They are satisfied that the arrest is reasonably necessary for any one or more of the following reasons:
  • to stop the person committing or repeating the offence or committing another offence;
  • to stop the person fleeing from a police officer or from the location of the offence;
  • to enable inquiries to be made to establish the person’s identity if it cannot be readily established or if the police officer suspects on reasonable grounds that identity information provided is false;
  • to ensure that the person appears before a court in relation to the offence;
  • to obtain property in the possession of the person that is connected with the offence;
  • to preserve evidence of the offence or prevent the fabrication of evidence;
  • to prevent the harassment of, or interference with, any person who may give evidence in relation to the offence;
  • to protect the safety or welfare of any person (including the person arrested); and/or
  • because of the nature and seriousness of the offence.

SAFEGUARDS

When an officer exercises their power to arrest, they must comply with Part 15 of LEPRA (safeguards). This requires the officer to provide the arrested person with the following:

  • Evidence that they are a police officer (unless they are in uniform);
  • Their name and place of duty; and
  • The reason for the arrest.

The officer must do this as soon as it is reasonably practicable to do so.

CAUTIONING

Pursuant to Sections 139 and 89A of the Evidence Act 1995, before questioning an arrested person, the officer must caution the person that they do not have to say or do anything but that anything they do say or do may be used in evidence.

USE OF FORCE

When exercising a power to arrest, the officer may use such force as is reasonably necessary to make the arrest or to prevent the escape of the person after arrest.  The reasonableness of their actions will depend on the circumstances

 

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