Victoria’s anti-corruption watchdog has cleared police of using excessive force in a botched raid on a gay bookstore that left an innocent man seriously injured.
In May last year, events promoter Nik Dimopoulos was asleep in an apartment above Fitzroy queer bookstore Hares and Hyenas when he heard voices of intruders.
Unknown to Dimopoulos, the intruders were Victoria Police’s Critical Incident Response Team. The officers had stormed the wrong home while searching for an armed offender.
Fearing a home invasion or homophobic attack, Dimopoulos tried to escape to the street outside. But during the violent struggle, his shoulder was pulled from his socket and several arm bones shattered.
This week the Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) ruled police had not used excessive force while arresting Dimopoulos.
IBAC commissioner Robert Redlich said they found officers had “reasonable grounds” to enter and search the building, given the information they had at the time.
“IBAC found the force used by police in restraining Mr Dimopoulos was not disproportionate to the officers’ objective of arresting Mr Dimopoulos,” he said.
“The police involved reasonably believed such force was necessary to arrest a person who was struggling with police.”
However, IBAC did find that Mr Dimopoulos’s human rights were impacted, he said.
“The officers involved in the incident did not, as the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities obliges them, advise him of the reason for his arrest, make him aware of his rights, or officially release him from custody,” he said.
The commission has asked Victoria Police to investigate why the officers failed in this regard and “take appropriate action with respect to the officers”.
Victim Nik Dimopoulos blasts watchdog’s findings
Nik Dimopoulos said he was “bitterly disappointed and angry” about IBAC’s “contradictory and unjust” findings.
“I am at a loss as to how IBAC could come to these conclusions,” he said.
He will push for a review of the case by the Director of Public Prosecutions and is planning civil action against Victoria Police.
Dimopoulos’s lawyer Jeremy King said IBAC’s decision was “legally contradictory, it’s galling and it sets a dangerous precedent for policing in Victoria”.
“At law, in order for an arrest to be lawful, a person must be told they are under arrest and why they are under arrest,” he told the Herald Sun.
“IBAC found that Nik was never told he was under arrest, yet somehow IBAC also found that the arrest was lawful.
“This is contradictory and highly problematic.”
Police union slammed for calling raid critics ‘opportunists’
Police union boss Wayne Gatt said the IBAC findings are “an important outcome” for the officers involved.
He said the IBAC’s findings are “sober reading for those who judged them prematurely, who apologised on their behalf prematurely, for those opportunists who chose to drive an agenda because it was convenient.”
“IBAC found our members’ actions to be lawful and their use of force reasonable,” he said.
“The only matter that IBAC has chosen to criticise relates to a technical breach of human rights, which is residual to the substantive issues that were referred to IBAC, and minor in nature.”
But the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby said Gatt’s comments were incredibly disappointing.
“This demonstrates an astonishing ignorance of the history of police violence against LGBT people and a lack of respect for our community,” the group said.
“The statement also fails to acknowledge the significant and ongoing pain and trauma suffered by Nik Dimopoulos, the bookstore’s owners and the community.
“The Lobby has written to the Police Association Victoria to voice these serious concerns. [We] will raise this at the next LGBTI Portfolio Reference Group meeting.”
They said IBAC’s findings were also “disappointing” and support Dimopoulos’ requests for a legal review.
Raid not motivated by race or sexuality
IBAC said it found no evidence the botched raid was motivated by race or sexuality.
However IBAC wants answers from Victoria Police after it found “ongoing and potentially systemic issues” relating to the Critical Incident Response Team.
“These issues include use of force, training and capability around key functions, and inadequacies in CIRT’s policies and procedures,” Commissioner Redlich said.
Victoria Police professional standards assistant commissioner Russell Barrett said there were “no winners in this situation”.
“We have already apologised for the emotional and physical impact this incident had on the man,” Barrett said.
“[We] will continue to offer him and his community our full support.
“[Someone injured] during an interaction with police is not the outcome our members want or expect when they start their shift.
“That is why we apologised to the man so early on. We would do the same thing if we had our time over.
“Victoria Police has strong relationships with the LGBTIQ community and we would not jeopardise this under any circumstance.
“Our role as police is to serve and protect all Victorians and the LGBTIQ community is an important part of this.”
For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.