By JR on Saturday, August 13, 2011
I normally put up accounts of police misbehaviour on my "Police News" blog only but I am putting this account up more widely because it has become a censorship issue as well
A video showing an anti-terrorism squad officer stripped to his underpants and gyrating his groin in the face of a drunk Aboriginal colleague has been suppressed at the request of Queensland Police.
The suppression order comes ahead of the release of a major review of police disciplinary procedures, raising further questions about the culture within Queensland’s police force and why the officer was not sacked.
The security camera footage, taken at the McDonald’s restaurant in the south-east Queensland town of Kingaroy on March 23 last year, shows Constable Daniel Kennedy straddling the Aboriginal officer while nine other non-indigenous officers watched on.
Constable Kennedy’s actions came to light when police reviewed the footage during an investigation into the Aboriginal officer’s arrest at the restaurant late on the first night of the state’s annual police rugby league carnival.
A Queensland Police report into the incident described Constable Kennedy actions thus: "You approached …removed your shorts, lifted your left leg and gyrated your groin in front of his face."
The Special Emergency Response Team officer’s actions were described as “appalling” by Deputy Commissioner Ian Stewart, who presided over an internal police disciplinary action last November.
"I have seen the footage and I am appalled by your behaviour … I am sure that had members of the public witnessed your behaviour, they would have been affronted by it … In your case, not only did you commit an act resulting in your conviction for a public nuisance offence but, if observed by a member of the public, it had the potential not only to be seen as offensive but also taunting the dignity of [the other officer], together with racial overtones."
Deputy Commissioner Stewart delivered his findings in the presence of Constable Kennedy, who denied it was a racist act.
However, Deputy Commissioner Stewart found Constable Kennedy’s conduct had “tarnished the good image of the majority of members of this organisation, which we strive to maintain …”
“Additionally your conduct had the potential to result in significant publicity and embarrassment to the Service and its members,” he said.
Deputy Commissioner Stewart's report said that Constable Kennedy had kept his underpants on, but an investigation had revealed the incident with the intoxicated and sleeping Aboriginal officer was not consensual.
“I note the argument submitted that your actions were done in jest and not intended to offend your friend,” Deputy Commissioner Stewart said. “I acknowledge there is no evidence you exposed yourself or that there was any contact, deliberate or accidental, between your genital area and [the other officer]. Further [he] has regarded this as a joke.”
Queensland's administrative appeals tribunal, QCAT, has ordered the CCTV footage never be shown.
An application by SBS for its release was denied, in spite of assurances to conceal the Aboriginal officer's identity.
Tribunal member Susan Booth ruled the footage is "capable of offending public decency" and could still cause the officer public ridicule and humiliation.
Former Queensland police inspector Col Dillion, once the highest ranking Aboriginal officer in Australia, retired a decade ago warning of the police culture towards indigenous officers.
“I think it is absolutely reprehensible, the actions of the police … given for starters, the police officer, any police officers for that matter should be setting the highest possible standards of behaviour for society,” he said.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service's Greg Shadbolt said Constable Kennedy’s actions had besmirched the reputations of his colleagues.
“The Queensland police service has the largest vested interest in cleaning up this area because there are many many officers who work long and hard in very trying circumstances, and do a tremendous job, as a general rule, and for them to have their reputation besmirched by conduct of this nature is really beyond the pale,” he said.
“One must feel really sorry for the other officers and wonder what they must think of all this.”
The Aboriginal officer did not lodge a complaint about the incident. He declined to be interviewed by SBS.
The police disciplinary report states Constable Kennedy “did not believe his actions were inappropriate when he considers the circumstances of the incident. He stated this type of behaviour had occurred at other police football carnivals".
He was immediately stood down from anti-terrorism duties and later pleaded guilty to public nuisance, for which he was fined $250 with no conviction recorded in Kingaroy magistrates court.
Despite suppressing video of the incident, QCAT rejected a police application to suppress an audio recording of the deputy commissioner Ian Steward's disciplinary hearing, citing public interest.
It reveals that Constable Kennedy’s pay was frozen for a year, but this did not prevent his reinstatement to the elite Special Emergency Response Team.
ATSILS’ Greg Shadbolt said the outcome seemed “woefully inadequate”. “As I say, it really does demonstrate yet again the fact that police investigating police in terms of outcomes, simply doesn't work,” he said.
Mr Dillion, now the acting director of the University of Queensland's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit, said if a similar incident took place in that institution, the offender would be sacked.
“I'd certainly expect the person would be dealt with in the harshest possible terms,” he said.
In a brief statement to SBS, Queensland's police minister (mr) Neil Roberts said the issue is an internal police matter
A review of police disciplinary procedures ordered by Queensland premier Anna Bligh is due for release by September. It comes after the lack of disciplinary action against police investigators in the Palm Island death-in-custody case of Cameron Doomadgee. The issue of police investigating police is a major concern of the review.
Mr Shadbolt said the facts of the Kingaroy incident were not in question, placing the focus on Constable Kennedy’s punishment. “Anyone else, working for any other organisation would have been dismissed and the question I think the public is asking is should the police have lower standards than the rest of society,” he said.
Queensland Police told SBS the matter had been investigated by its Ethical Standards Command, and that “disciplinary charges were laid against this officer in accordance with the findings of that investigation”.