Two teenage boys were repeatedly capsicum sprayed at a train station in Melbourne because one of them didn’t have a valid ticket.
The Protective Services Officers, who are trained and employed by Victorian Police, said they used the chemical compound on the 17-year-olds to protect themselves.
But CCTV of the incident at Springvale train station shown to the Children’s Court told a different story, of two teenage boys being compliant and not lashing out, as the officers had claimed.
So much burning foam was sprayed that it hit one of the officers. An ambulance was called for the officer but not for the teenagers.
The magistrate dismissed an assault charge against one boy, who did have a ticket, and placed the other boy, who admitted not having a ticket, on a diversionary program. The boys cannot be named for legal reasons.
CCTV footage of the incident was released by the Children’s Court.
Victorian police say they are now reviewing whether the force used in this case was appropriate. Similar cases have caused a community backlash.
Deborah Glass, the Victorian Ombudsman, has investigated three cases involving alleged heavy-handed conduct of authorised officers on the public transport network. Her predecessor investigated four incidents caught on CCTV.
The latest was the case of a 15-year-old girl, who didn’t have a train ticket, who was spear-tackled and dropped on her head by an authorised officer.
The Ombudsman’s report to state parliament last week found that this action was excessive and was a breach of the state’s Charter of Human Rights.
The Department of Transport investigated and decided that the authorised officers had acted appropriately. No action was taken against the authorised officers.
A petition against the actions of the authorised officers and the spear tackle has more than 38,000 signatures.
CCTV of the spear tackle:
One of the authorised officers who witnessed the spear tackle told the Ombudsman: “He put her in a bear hug, picked her up, turned her sideways and then took her weight and his weight, took her to the ground and then restrained her. It was very fast. It was very controlled. There was no attempt to throw her to the ground.”
That officer described the tackle as efficient.
However, a police officer, who was at the scene minutes later, viewed the CCTV footage and said: “To me it’s probably a bit excessive. Yeah, it’s excessive. Although there was no injury there was always the potential there for injury to occur.”
The Ombudsman said: “It is concerning that despite my office’s previous reports and recommendations which have highlighted training as a significant factor leading to the use of excessive force, the training provided to authorised officers remains, in my view, inadequate.”
She says authorised officers have an important role in the smooth operation of our public transport system.
“While ensuring people pay their fares is an element of that, it does not excuse the disproportionate use of force,” she says.
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