Man sues police over his arrest

Chris Evans
April 16, 2007

AN ABORIGINAL man injured in a controversial arrest in 2004, which witnesses likened to the infamous 1991 bashing of Rodney King in Los Angeles, is suing the state of Victoria and five policemen for damages.

Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service lawyers, acting for convicted car thief Raymond William Merritt, have lodged a writ for damages and costs in the County Court.

They claim Merritt suffered multiple injuries, including a burst left ear drum. Merritt's claim states he suffered a broken jaw joint, cuts to his head and swelling to his head and arm after being hit with batons. He also suffered loss of consciousness, anxiety, nightmares and emotional distress.

The first mention of the case will be heard by judge Sandra Davis in the County Court tomorrow.

A year after the arrest, the police were cleared of wrongdoing by the Ombudsman's then deputy director for police integrity, Brian Hardiman.

He found the police acted within the law when they intercepted and arrested Merritt at the wheel of a stolen Holden Calais, after they used satellite tracking equipment to stop the car by remote control in Melbourne Park on February 1, 2004.

Mr Hardiman found the police feared Merritt was armed.

"In any event, had he obeyed police instructions, opened the door and surrendered, police may not have needed to use force against Mr Merritt, who is very tall (195 centimetres), well built and powerful (90 kilograms)," Mr Hardiman found.

At least five people, including English pop musician Nitin Sawhney, told The Age at the time they saw up to 10 police drag Merritt, 27, through a smashed car window and slam his head on its roof in Batman Avenue near Rod Laver Arena.

They said police pulled him to the ground and punched and kicked him. Sawhney likened the arrest of Merritt to the bashing of African-American motorist Rodney King by Los Angeles police "but it was like 20 times worse".

In a statement of defence, the Victorian Government Solicitor denies the allegations.

Violent arrest report to get restricted release

By Jason Dowling
January 23, 2005
Constable Adam Runciman leaves court after giving evidence against Raymond Merritt, inset. A report into alleged police brutality against Mr Merritt will not be made public.

Constable Adam Runciman leaves court after giving evidence against Raymond Merritt, inset. A report into alleged police brutality against Mr Merritt will not be made public.
Photo: Andrew De La Rue

The findings of an investigation into the conduct of police during the allegedly violent arrest of a car thief in Melbourne last year will be made known this week.

But the report - by the office of police integrity, part of the office of State Ombudsman George Brouwer - will only be made available to those who complained about the man's treatment.

Witnesses complained about police who intercepted a stolen Holden Calais on the Exhibition Street extension last February and arrested Raymond William Merritt after triggering the car's immobilising system.

According to five people who witnessed the arrest, police repeatedly beat Merritt, dragged him through the car's broken passenger window and smashed his head on the roof.

The incident was likened to the notorious 1991 bashing of Rodney King in Los Angeles.

At the time, the acting Assistant Commissioner of Ethical Standards, Stephen Fontana, said police had received five complaints. He promised a thorough inquiry that could take up to three months.

Almost 12 months later, there has been no word from the ethical standards department about the outcome of that investigation.

English musician Nitin Sawhney, who witnessed the incident, said at the time that he had complained to police and the Ombudsman about the action of the officers. He said that to describe the amount of force police used as excessive "was the understatement of the century".

Merritt is in custody in NSW on charges unrelated to his arrest in Melbourne.

He is due to face the Central Local Court in Sydney on February 10.

A solicitor working for Merritt in Sydney, Thomas Russell, said last week that he would be interested in the findings of the office of police integrity investigation. He said Merritt was still considering suing police.

Mr Russell said he was surprised at the time it had taken the office of police integrity and the ethical standards department to complete their investigations.

"I attended an interview with the Ombudsman's office and Mr Merritt comparatively recently, considering the investigation apparently got under way in February last year; they have just got around to interviewing him," Mr Russell said.

He said investigators from the office of police integrity did not speak with Mr Merritt until November 24.

A spokeswoman for the Ombudsman's office said the office would provide a detailed response to complainants next week.

"Our response will be based on ESD's investigation and our own further inquiries," she said.

She said ethical standards department would provide its own reports to witnesses and others who contacted the department. No information from the office of police integrity would be made publicly available, she said.

"The director of office of police integrity can only make a matter public if he reports to Parliament, the same as in his Ombudsman's role . . . such cases are not typically reported to Parliament," the spokeswoman said.

She said she understood the department had also completed its review of the incident, but was unaware if its findings would be made public.

Victoria Police would not comment on the ethical standards investigation until police had seen a copy of the office of police integrity report, a spokeswoman said.


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