THE Office of Police Integrity violated the human rights of an Ethiopian teenager living in Melbourne by failing to investigate an incident in which police allegedly broke his teeth against a gutter, capsicum-sprayed him while he was handcuffed and racially abused him, the Supreme Court has heard.
Nassir Bare complained to the OPI in February 2010 that one year earlier, when he was aged 17, police had repeatedly struck his chin against the gutter, chipping his teeth, kicked his legs out from under him, kicked him in the ribs, sprayed him in the face with capsicum spray while handcuffed and told him ''you black people think you can come to this country and steal cars''. Mr Bare, who is from Ethiopia, is now taking legal action against the OPI and individual officers of the OPI for their decisions to refer his complaint to Victoria Police's internal ethical standards department for investigation.
Barrister Jason Pizer, representing Mr Bare, said that the lawyer who filed this complaint had requested that the OPI investigate the matter independently and not refer the complaint to Victoria Police.
He said one of the Victoria Police officers involved had been cited on two previous occasions for inappropriate use of capsicum spray. It was a ''serious assault and cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment of a minor'', he said.
He told the court, presided over by Justice Katharine Mary Williams, that the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act placed an ''obligation on the state not only to refrain from such treatment but to effectively investigate allegations of such treatment … effective investigation must be one that is independent, adequate and capable of resulting in prosecution and discipline of perpetrators.''
He said the OPI's decision to refer the case to Victoria Police, and a subsequent decision by the OPI deputy director which came to the same conclusion, had placed Mr Bare, who was charged over the incident, at risk of being charged with more offences and at risk of losing an opportunity for diversion.
Peter Gray, SC, representing the OPI, said he would not argue that the ethical standards department was institutionally independent from Victoria Police. He said the department reported to ''a higher level in the hierarchy of Victoria Police'' but the way it conducted its operations was ''substantially independent''. He told the court: ''There is no human right of the type implied and if there is, it has not been infringed.''