A young Aboriginal man has been awarded more than $38,000 in damages after he was wrongly arrested, falsely imprisoned and subjected to assault from police officers in 2013.
In a decision handed down on Thursday in the NSW District Court, judge Leonard Levy found Aboriginal man Trent Exton was entitled to the sum following a 2013 incident in Lismore, NSW.
On a Friday evening in April 2013, then 17-year-old Exton was drinking alcohol with a group of family and friends in an alcohol-free zone of Lismore.
According to the facts laid out in the judge's decision, Council security officers had asked the group to move on twice, and called the police after seeing the group a third time.
Senior constable Timothy Chapman and senior constable Brian Quinn arrived as an older woman, Exton's cousin, was preparing to drive Exton and the other people present home in a maroon Tarago.
The two officers stopped the car, Chapman asked Exton to get out, and the situation escalated.
Chapman testified that he had said to Exton, "Trent, can you get out of the car? I don’t want to have to drag you out. Can you get out?" with the intention of "bluffing" Exton into agreeing to get out of the car.
The judge described the "bluff" as a "not too thinly veiled threat of the use of force".
"The meaning was plain. The plaintiff had to get out of the vehicle or he would be dragged out."
Exton, clearly upset, slowly started to get out of the car, swearing at the officers and making "inco-ordinate" arm movements.
As he got close to the passenger door, the two officers grabbed each one of his arms. Chapman then did a "leg sweep manoeuvre" which took both officers and Exton down onto the pavement.
According to the decision, Chapman was then punched in the back of the head by another person who had just gotten out of the car, and Quinn used capsicum spray on that person.
The judge found the officers had used "unjustifiable and excessive force" on Exton by grabbing him by the arms, taking him onto the ground with a leg sweep manoeuvre and keeping a knee pressed into his back.
"At the scene, whilst [Exton] was on the ground as described above, he was in an extremely distressed state. There is no dispute that at some stage he was banging his head on the concrete pavement," the decision read.
"He was screaming volubly, maintaining that he had done nothing wrong, and at that time, he was variously expressing a desire to kill the police officers, and in the alternative, inviting the police officers to kill him."
Exton was 17 at the time and weighed approximately 50kg. He was, according to police protocol, classified as a "vulnerable person" due to his age, Aboriginality, and the fact he was drunk.
Levy also found that the officers had no reasonable grounds to order Exton out of the Tarago, and that both his arrest and the subsequent five-hour detention were unlawful.
The $38,072 awarded to Exton included $5000 in exemplary damages for Chapman's "bluff" to get him out of the Tarago.
"In my view, the circumstances as found, indicate there should be an award of exemplary damages that signifies the court’s disdain and disapproval for such a contumelious disregard of the plaintiff’s rights," Levy wrote.
The state was also ordered to pay Exton's legal costs.
A spokesperson for the NSW Police Force told BuzzFeed News the force is reviewing the decision.
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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