An Australian police officer has been found guilty of "serious misconduct" after baselessly threatening a migrant woman with immigration detention during a traffic stop.
The race and religion of the two Afghan Muslim women involved in the traffic stop were relevant to their "rude and arrogant" treatment by police, the New South Wales police oversight body, the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission, found in a report published on Thursday.
The two women, a 24-year-old student driving the car and her stepmother in the passenger seat, were pulled over in April 2019 on a suburban street in Parramatta, in Sydney’s west. Both women were wearing headscarves.
The officers said they stopped the car because they believed the stepmother, called Mrs R in the commission’s report, was not wearing a seatbelt and because the driver, referred to as Ms Y, had not signalled her exit when she went straight at a roundabout.
Four minutes of the 12-minute traffic stop were captured by body cameras and a vehicle camera.
When they pulled over, one of the officers (called Officer 1 by the commission) told Ms Y she was the “most stupidest person I’ve met as a driver”.
The officers demanded Mrs R produce identification, but she did not. "She’s just migrated from overseas," Ms Y explained. "We’ve applied for her ID card. It hasn’t arrived to us."
The officers then remarked to each other that Mrs R would be sent to jail.
The men told Ms Y she was under arrest for negligent driving. "Don’t argue with me love or you’ll be going back in the paddy wagon as accessory to bloody murder," Officer 1 told her.
"I swear to God that I didn’t know where to stop," Ms Y said, explaining why she had taken a few minutes to pull over after the men activated their sirens.
Officer 2 then asked what her religion was and said she should swear to Allah. He also told her that if she didn’t know how to drive on Australian roads, she should hand her licence back.
He also said her stepmother would be taken to a police station for not giving an accurate date of birth, although Ms Y insisted Mrs R didn’t know it herself.
Officer 2 then mentioned Villawood — the immigration detention centre in Sydney’s west.
"What kind of visa is Mum on?" Officer 2 asked Ms Y, who replied that she was on a temporary visa.
He then said: "Oh, she’s committed offences whilst on a temporary visa?"
"Yep," said Officer 1. "Aid and abet," replied Officer 2.
Officer 2 later admitted to investigators that there was no offence of "aid and abet" and said he didn’t know why he had said that.
The officer "deliberately made baseless threats to both women about being taken into custody or immigration detention", the commission found.
His threats about being sent to Villawood and having committed offences were "without foundation", it found. Mrs R appeared to be gesturing to show that she had been wearing a seatbelt, the commission said.
Officer 1 also told Ms Y "Don't take advantage of our system" and Officer 2’s demeanour showed he appeared to agree with the sentiment, the commission found.
Officer 1’s treatment of the women was influenced by their race and religion, the commission found. "He was referring to two immigrants taking advantage of the Australian system. What is obvious is that when he referred to 'our system' he did so because he did not consider that Ms Y and Mrs R were part of that system."
The commission found they had both committed serious misconduct and recommended action be taken against them.
The commission said Officer 2 was "unfit for purpose as a police officer," and he should be kept from having contact with members of the public until his retirement.
Officer 1 was found to be "presently unfit for purpose" as an officer who has any contact with members of the public.