Australian police beat detained woman, marched her naked in front of officers – watchdog report

© The West Australian
A newly presented report by West Australian corruption watchdog accuses the country’s police officers of beating a woman and marching her naked through the halls of a watch house in front of other officers in April 2013.

The Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) report, presented to the Parliament on Thursday, says that five police officers were involved in the harsh treatment of a woman called Joanne Martin on April 7, 2013.

The report includes a video record of the incident showing the woman identified as Joanne Martin, 33 at the time of the incident, screaming while being escorted through the reception area with only a blanket to cover her. The document claims that, during her detention, the woman was subjected to physical attacks that resulted in particular in a serious finger fracture.

"Soon after her arrival, Ms Martin found herself naked, lying face down on a floor, with a number of Watch House officers seeking to forcibly restrain her, one applying hammer blows with a fist to the shoulder blade area, a second also striking her and another using such force to try and remove a ring that it caused a serious fracture to her finger," the report said, as quoted by the West Australian.

"A little later, Ms Martin was escorted handcuffed and with leg restraints, naked apart from a blanket, past male officers,” it added.

Joanne Martin was arrested earlier the same day in Northbridge for disorderly behavior and escorted to the East Perth Watch House, where “there was nothing to indicate [that she] was a threat to any person," the CCC report states.

After beating Martin and parading her through the watch house the officer

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s allegedly put her in a cell without returning her clothes. One officer told her she needed “to have a better attitude,” as can be heard from the footage, although no video record was taken from within the cell.

The Corruption and Crime Commission condemned the police actions by saying that “it is of considerable concern that a person could in Perth in 2013 undergo what befell Ms Martin at the Watch House on the morning of April 7, 2013.”

The report called for bringing the officers and their superiors to account. It also said the incident was a result of an “institutionalized failure” in the West Australian police chains of command.

Police ‘fundamentally disagree’ with findings

West Australian Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan denied the report’s claims and said that police “fundamentally disagree” with the CCC findings adding that the officers’ actions were within the law.

"The officers made a risk based decision as they’re entitled to do … that someone coming into the lock-up should be strip searched,” he told Australian media during a press-conference.

"They have to make a decision about how they restrain the prisoner in those circumstances," he told Australian 6PR channel.

"We don't agree that there was no reason to strip search that woman," he added.
Karl O'Callaghan also emphasized that many of the issued raised by the CCC report are no longer relevant as the police had moved to a new watch house in April, 2014, after the incident had taken place.

“The new watch house has better access; it has areas where people can be properly searched. It is easier to keep an eye on the prisoners. We have a different management structure in the new watch house,” he said as quoted by the Australian 9 News.

O'Callaghan also said police was proceeding to using scanners instead of strip searches.

He did not deny the facts of beating and marching the woman through the watch house, although he gave no explanation for that.

The report admitted the police procedures had been improved after moving to the new Perth Watch House in Northbridge as well as acknowledged that there were plans to replace strip searches with body scanners.

However, the watchdog organization was “dissatisfied” with the measures taken to mitigate the risks of police misconduct and stressed that “urgent attention” was still needed in the field of training and supervision.

The incident also drew attention of the West Australia Premier, Collin Barnett, who expressed his concern by saying that “it is a very serious case,” adding that the police commissioner as well as the police minister would further speak on the issue.

“That is the CCC doing its job – oversighting police,” Collin Barnett told the West Australian.