Backpacker Sues NSW Police After Brutal Assault

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An English backpacker is suing the NSW Police force after he was assaulted by a drunk, off-duty officer and his mates in Sydney’s CBD.

Liam Monte alleges he was the victim of police brutality by a heavily intoxicated police constable and his friends following an incident at McDonalds, where a bus driver and other independent witnesses confirmed that Mr Monte was repeatedly kicked and bashed as he lay defenseless on the ground.

While police originally charged Mr Monte with assaulting police, that charge was dropped after it became clear he did not assault anyone. Police then charged him with stealing the constable’s badge.

Mr Monte has accused the Police of an institutional cover-up in their failure to discipline the actions of the officer. He has now started a civil claim against the NSW Police Force, suing for damages arising from assault and battery, misfeasance in public office, unlawful imprisonment and collateral abuse of process.

The Incident

On the night in question, Senior Constable Osvaldo Panemilla had just come from the Ivy Night Club where, on his own evidence, he had “about 15 drinks.” The Court heard that Panemilla and his friends became aggressive when Mr Monte and his friends were throwing chips at one another, one of which hit the officer’s friend’s shoulder.

Outside the fast food outlet, the officer threatened Mr Monte then pulled out his police badge and said he was under arrest. Monte, believing that the badge was a fake (from a “Christmas cracker” as he put it) grabbed the badge and left for a waiting taxi.

When he reached the taxi, the officer’s grouip pulled him out by his ankles and started punching him on the footpath. Although Monte threw the badge back, constable Panemilla and his friends continue to assault Monte, causing him to fall to the ground where – according to an independent witness – he was “punched approximately 10 times to the face as he lay on the ground”.

The bus driver had to pull the men off Mr Monte, who was then taken to hospital in an ambulance suffering severe facial bruising and a suspected broken eye socket.

The Aftermath

Mr Monte was arrested at his backpacker’s hostel shortly after being discharged from hospital – handcuffed and questioned despite suffering the effects of a concussion.

At Monte’s hearing in Downing Centre Local Court, Magistrate Michael Barnes found that his arrest was “unnecessary and improper” and that officer Painemilla’s conduct “fell far below the standard the commissioner has reasonably set for the officers of the NSW Police Force”.

The Magistrate nevertheless found enough evidence to find Monte guilty of taking the police badge, although he then exercised his discretion not to record a conviction.

Criticism of Police

The Magistrate expressed the view that police had brought the prosecution in an attempt to “somehow negate the suggestion that the force applied to Mr Monte was otherwise completely unjustifiable”.

He added that by using a petty prosecution to shift the focus onto Mr Monte, police showed they are more concerned with their reputation than with protecting the public and getting rid of any ‘bad apples’ within the force.

Stephen Blanks, the president of the NSW Council of Civil Liberties, said he was quite disturbed by the legal tactic.

“The police attempted to shut this case down by using litigation tactics of a kind that normally only happens in the big commercial courts,” he said. “And they were using it against a victim of their own violence.”

Abuses of Process

“What we need in the NSW Police force is a culture of intolerance of wrongdoing, an intolerance of violence by police against innocent members of the public, an intolerance of using the courts to prosecute cases that ought not to be prosecuted,” Mr Blanks said.

This cultural change may be difficult when it has been recently reported that the NSW Police Force is increasingly recruiting convicted criminals. A total of 595 offences have been committed by 437 NSW police officers, or one in 40 police still on active duty. The number of police with convictions has risen 250% since 2008, while the total police numbers have only increased by 6%.

Possibly the only way to create this culture of “intolerance of wrongdoing” is to make police more accountable by creating mechanisms where police are not simply policing themselves, and using the court system as a way to put victims on the back foot.

Mr Monte has filed civil proceedings over the conduct, and although police are yet to file a defence, their lawyers made an application to force Monte to pay $60,000 into the court as ‘security for costs’; in other words, for money to be held by the court in case he loses the case.

The tactic, if successful, would have almost certainly meant the end of Monte’s claim as he simply would not have been able to pay that sum of money. The court rejected the police application.

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About Zeb Holmes

Zeb Holmes is a journalist and paralegal working on claims for institutional abuse. He has a passion for social justice and criminal law reform, and is a member of the content team at Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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