A Canberra court has heard a NSW Police officer threatened to break a man’s legs during an illegal arrest by himself and another officer in the ACT.
- An ACT Magistrate described the conduct of two NSW police officers as “outrageous” and “unprofessional”
- The Canberra court heard a police body-worn camera also recorded an officer threatening to break the man’s legs
- The man plans to sue NSW Police over the unlawful arrest
Charges against Allan Eric Watts, 48, were thrown out of the ACT Magistrates Court on Tuesday after Magistrate Bernadette Boss ruled the NSW officers had no authority to make the arrest in the territory and had therefore acted unlawfully.
Dr Boss described the conduct as “outrageous” and “unprofessional”, and said she was amazed any interstate police officers could “think they can stride around this territory and act as vigilante enforcers”.
Police had no rights to record or arrest man
According to the police statement of facts, Mr Watts was disqualified from driving after being convicted for drug driving in May 2019.
In April this year, in the early hours of the morning, police alleged Mr Watts rode a motorcycle into a service station in Hume, an ACT suburb near the border with New South Wales.
NSW Police officers who saw him believed he was unlicensed and drug affected and detained him until ACT police could arrive an hour later.
He was arrested and charged with driving while disqualified, possessing a knife, and a breach of good behaviour.
Mr Watts spent two weeks behind bars before he was granted bail.
But in the case before court today, defence barrister Jack Pappas argued his client had been threatened, spoken to roughly, and held against his will because the officers were not from ACT Policing and had no jurisdiction.
Mr Pappas said a police body-worn camera recording showed his client wander away from officers and was told to stay where he was.
The court heard Mr Watts replied: “I’m not going to run”, and an officer responded: “You’re not going to run, because if I catch you, I’m going to break your legs.”
Mr Pappas argued the recording had been illegal as the camera’s use was restricted to their duties as police in NSW — not the ACT.
The prosecutor admitted the officers were not special constables in the ACT, but argued they had been acting in good faith and could not in good conscious let Mr Watts leave while they suspected he was under the influence.
Magistrate Boss said without rights of arrest as police, the officers would have had to detain Mr Watts under the common law — which means he had to be committing or has just committed an offence.
“You can’t conduct a citizen’s arrest on suspicion,” she said.
“[This was] a terrible imposition on [his] liberties.”
Dr Boss said the unlawful arrest meant the majority of the evidence was inadmissible and the footage of the officer’s threat was not tendered.
In response, the prosecutor offered no evidence and the charges against Mr Watts were dismissed.
Defendant to take civil action against police
Outside court, defence lawyer Tom Taylor said the conduct by the NSW police officers had been “reprehensible”.
“What makes this matter particularly egregious is the threat made by NSW Police to break my client’s legs,” Mr Taylor said.
“The threat was disgraceful. My client was pleading to sit down because his feet were hurting and telling the officer he was not going to run away.
Mr Taylor said the case was a reminder that police officers were not “a law unto themselves”.
“Above all others, with their broad powers entrusted on them by parliament, police officers should be careful to know when is it lawful or appropriate to exercise their powers,” he said.
“If not on duty and in their own jurisdiction they do not carry some special powers and rights beyond any other citizen.”
The defence lawyer said his client was relieved the charges had been dismissed, and they would now take civil action against the NSW Police.
“It’s something he never should have endured,” Mr Taylor said.