Opinion

Editorial
Police lines

Simone Renae White is 41 years old. She is a social worker. In July last year, she attended a protest against a Reclaim Australia demonstration in Sydney’s Martin Place.

It was a shabby little rally. A few dozen people chanting, standing against a police line. “This is not a police state. We have the right to demonstrate.”

At one point, White felt a police officer grope her breasts. She turned to take a photograph with her mobile phone. Shortly after, she was pulled from the line and pinned to the ground by senior constable John Wasko. His gloved hands locked around her shoulder, his knee sinking into her back. At the time, it seemed like a strange use of force at a small and peaceful protest.

Later, White was charged with assaulting police. Wasko alleged that she had struck him with her elbow. The incident was resolved this week, after a year spent fighting the charge. It must be among the most appalling examples of police misconduct in recent memory.

The police case against White rested wholly on Wasko’s testimony. This is unusual. Police had filmed the rally. There is closed-circuit television up and down Martin Place.

At first, Wasko said there was no relevant video of the incident. He said he was usually stationed at Dee Why, on the northern beaches, and was not aware of the council-owned cameras on Martin Place. He asked one colleague for footage, but deemed it irrelevant. He stood by his statement: White had assaulted him.

Eventually, White’s legal team subpoenaed the police footage. Without this, White might never have known justice. The tape shows the appalling hypocrisy of the police case, the way in which police sought to use the courts to abuse an innocent woman.

White’s arrest is shown in its entirety. The tape shows the moments before, as White is pushed down Martin Place with other protesters. The camera takes a special interest in her after she throws some water from the little drink bottle she is carrying.

“Girl in red just threw water at the police,” the unseen policeman filming the event says. “Get a close-up of her. This girl here. Girl in the red. Little Red Riding Hood, we’ll call her.”

The video shows police grabbing the back of White’s neck. It shows her being shoved in the back. It shows Wasko pulling her to the ground. It does not show her raising her elbow. A magistrate said such an action was “inconsistent” with the available evidence.

On the tape, Wasko can be heard telling White she assaulted him. “That’s a lie,” she says, her body pinned under him. “You’re lying.” 

The final audio on the tape is from the officer filming. “That was, ah, Little Red Riding Hood. She just got locked up for assault.”

There is no footage of White being groped by police – the officer involved was not Wasko – but medical records report bruising on her breasts after the incident. Police deleted the picture White took of the officer who she believed assaulted her. Again, there is no footage of this. The closed-circuit camera in their bus was broken.

Magistrate Geoffrey Bradd found the police investigation into White “unreasonable and improper” this week. They destroyed evidence. They pursued false charges. They apparently sought to cover up an indecent assault.

But it is only White’s tenacity in court that has exposed this. It has cost her more than $13,000 to defend herself, when she is the victim. Bradd ordered her costs be paid.

None of the police involved have been disciplined. Not for their improper use of force. Not for their deleting of evidence. Not for indecently assaulting a woman on the street. Not for confecting charges against an innocent protester.

It is difficult – perhaps impossible – to understand why not.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 4, 2016 as "Police lines". Subscribe here.

Editorial