Why the police assault in ‘The Newsroom’ is more fact than fiction

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

Picture of Iain Gould, Solicitor (lawyer) and specialist in actions against the police claims.
Iain Gould, Solicitor (lawyer)

In tonight’s edition of the Newsroom, the fictional HBO drama currently airing on Sky Atlantic, Neal Sampat is subjected to a police assault and wrongfully arrested at a New York protest rally.

His character, played by Englishman Dev Patel, is seen filming the protest and telling the police that he is a journalist, only to be assaulted by a police officer, arrested and held in a police cell. He is freed after an hour when anchorman Will McAvoy (a former lawyer) shows the custody sergeant Neal’s footage of the protest, including proof of the police assault and unlawful arrest.

Aside from being a good story, I am glad that the often- harsh treatment of protesters exercising their legitimate right to freedom of expression is now being shown in popular media.

Police assault at a peaceful protest

As a solicitor who specialises in actions against the police I am frequently asked to represent clients who have been subject to a police assault, unlawful arrest and detention and, on occasion, malicious prosecution, simply because they exercised their right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression.

My former client Audrey White (name and details used with permission) received compensation following a police assault when she was protesting at a ‘Stop the War’ rally in Manchester. Mrs. White, who was 56 at the time, is an articulate, successful businesswoman, who was well-known to the police as an organiser and steward at these events.

To get publicity, for much of the day she wore a Gordon Brown facemask while carrying a banner-sized mock cheque which was payable to the ‘Oil Companies and Arms Industry for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq- the sum of 12 billion pounds, the blood of one million Iraqis and the deaths of 300 British soldiers’ and ‘signed’ by Gordon Brown (see photograph below).

Audrey White, Stop the War campaigner, wearing the Gordon Brown facemask which the police forcibly removed.
Police assault Stop the War campaigner wearing a Gordon Brown mask

The protest went off without incident, but near the end, a female police officer and colleague told Mrs. White to remove the mask. When Audrey asked why, they had no answer. Mrs. White refused, so the police officers forcibly removed the mask, dragging her to the ground.

Audrey White suffers from low bone density and was injured in the police assault. She was in pain, upset and humiliated by the police’s shocking and unjustified treatment.

Later, Audrey filed a police complaint about the assault, but as is often the case, the police rejected her complaint saying that their action was reasonable, necessary and proportionate.

Compensation claim after a police assault

Mrs. White instructed me to pursue a civil action against the police. Again, the police denied that they had done anything wrong, arguing that they had the power to remove disguises under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. This Section is meant to prevent people from hiding their identity to the police.

I obtained the police officer’s notebooks, which showed that they did not believe that the mask was being worn to conceal her identity, so that they had no right to remove it.

As such, the police assault was unlawful and breached Audrey’s legal right to freedom of expression.

Following negotiations, I recovered compensation for the police assault, a formal apology, and full legal costs for my satisfied client.

I am glad that The Newsroom highlighted the importance of the civil right to protest, and the police’s often overly- aggressive approach to dealing with protesters. Even though it is fiction set in New York, my client’s experience is remarkably similar, showing that civil liberties are under threat no matter where we are.

 

If you have been subject to a police assault, unlawful arrest and/or detention at a protest rally and want to claim compensation, contact me using the online form below, on 0151 933 5525, or via my firm’s website. Alternatively, read more about me, or more blog posts, by clicking on the links.

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Why do police assaults continue eight years after Azelle Rodney’s death?

Iain Gould, Actions Against the Police SolicitorBy Iain Gould, solicitor

On 30 April 2005 an armed police officer of the London Metropolitan Police fatally shot Azelle Rodney (shown below), a passenger in a car believed to have armed criminals inside, in a bungled ‘hard stop’.  Although weapons were subsequently found in the vehicle, Mr. Rodney was not holding a gun when killed by the police.

Investigations by both the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Crown Prosecution Service found no reason to criticise the police’s conduct. No inquest was held, and eventually political pressure persuaded the Lord Chancellor to establish a Parliamentary Inquiry on 10 June 2010.


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by 4WardEver Campaign UK

The recently published Azelle Rodney Inquiry Report is critical of:

  • the Metropolitan Police’s planning procedures,
  • the execution of the ‘hard stop’,
  • their handling of the aftermath of the shooting, and
  • concluded that there was no lawful justification for shooting Mr. Rodney so as to kill him.

Specifically, the report criticised the conduct of the ‘hard stop’, a tactic used by the police to ‘box in’ a suspect vehicle and use overwhelming force to shock the occupants into compliance. The report’s authors considered this ‘hard stop’ fell short of Police standards.

They found fault with:

  • the decision to ‘box in’ the vehicle directly outside a pub when better opportunities for the manoeuvre had previously presented themselves,
  • the deliberate ramming of the suspect vehicle on two separate occasions,
  • the officers who alighted from the police vehicles failed to wear caps so identifying themselves as police officers,
  • the officers fired a shotgun into the suspect vehicle’s tyres after it had been rammed and hemmed in when there was no likelihood of the vehicle escaping
  • the disproportionate force used by the police officer who shot Azelle Rodney, who opened fire only 0.06 seconds after his car stopped alongside the suspect vehicle with first six bullets, then followed up with two more shots. Shots 5-8 were found to have been directly to the head.
  • the evidence given by that officer was unreliable. The report found that the officer could not have seen or believed that Azelle Rodney had picked up a gun and was about to use it, despite his earlier statements. It considered that the policeman would be liable in civil and criminal law for the killing as there was no basis for firing the fatal fifth to eighth shots
  • the post-assault procedures, in which Mr. Rodney’s body was left on the pavement for more than 16 hours, his blood was not cleaned away prior to his family attending the scene, and unauthorised press reports were released.

The report recommends that the Metropolitan Police conduct a thorough review of their procedures.


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by West Midlands Police

Police assaults as a result of ‘hard stop’ action

Our modern police force has evolved to deal with changing threats. In particular, the risks caused by firearms and weapons means that the police have developed a tactic to create ‘shock and awe’ in the minds of their suspects. The police will now use the ‘hard stop’, expletives, physical force, ‘boxing in’ (where police vehicles are used to corner a suspect’s vehicle), and other aggressive behaviour to dominate and intimidate. They justify this by stating that they may have to deal with the threat of lethal force from potentially armed suspects.

The bungled ‘hard stop’ which tragically resulted in Azelle Rodney’s death was over eight years ago. Have the police learned from their mistakes? As two of my cases involving the London Metropolitan Police show, a pattern of unjustifiable police assaults is emerging that may suggest not.

Police assault, hard stops and ‘verbal stunning’

My clients Claire Clarke, James Barber, Nicholas Fairbairn and Ruth Fairbairn were on the receiving end of aggressive police assault tactics, described in an official response to their complaint as ‘verbal stunning’, when they were driving home from visiting friends on 19 April 2010. (You can read a case report here.)

The four friends in their late twenties were driving in Harrow when their car was boxed in by three marked Police cars while executing a ‘hard stop’.

A number of armed police officers surrounded them and trained their weapons on the car. James (the driver) had his car window was smashed, was roughly pulled out, thrown to the glass-covered ground and handcuffed. The armed police officers screamed expletives and contradictory instructions at the terrified friends. Nick and Ruth were also forcibly removed and handcuffed. The friends were separated. After 20 minutes the police explained they had made a mistake, and that they had stopped the wrong car.

All suffered physical and emotional distress as a result. As with Azelle Rodney’s case, the Independent Police Complaints Commission rejected their complaint saying there was no evidence of misconduct. I disagreed and instigated a civil action on their behalf and ultimately recovered compensation for my clients for this police assault on the basis that the police failed to conduct basic checks before executing the ‘hard stop’ on the friends’ car.


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Dave Crosby

Police assault with gun during a ‘hard stop’

My client Mr. A had just walked into an underground car park on 04 September 2009 when he was set upon by five or six armed men, all dressed in plain clothes. One of the men approached him and without warning smashed the butt of his gun into the side of Mr. A’s right temple, causing him to fall to the ground.

Mr. A was dragged away from the car park doorway by his attacker.

When Mr. A asked ‘why are you beating me?’ the man said ‘keep your f**king mouth shut’ and struck Mr. A with the butt of his gun again in the right temple.

Mr. A adopted a foetal position on the ground. While defenceless he felt people pulling at his limbs, kicking his heels, ribs and left hip. He was stamped on by the men. Then he was struck with the butt of the gun a third time to the head by the same man, who shouted ‘F**king c*nt, move!’

Mr. A, who was bleeding heavily and in great pain by this time had no idea who was attacking him, or why.

The man with the gun was told to ‘back off’ by a colleague, who came over and said ‘it’s not even f**king him’. Despite this, Mr. A was told that he was being arrested.

It then dawned on Mr. A that he had been repeatedly assaulted by police officers, not gangland thugs. As with Azelle Rodney’s case, the officers had failed to wear caps or other identifying clothing.

Mr. A was arrested (even though the officers would not tell him why), taken to hospital and thereafter a London police station where he was held for over 24 hours before being released, even though the police had clearly arrested the wrong man.

Ultimately, no action was taken against him.

He has suffered serious  injuries which have left him with permanent scars to his face and scalp, and emotional trauma. I am now pursuing an actions against the police claim for his police assault, wrongful arrest & false imprisonment. Mr. A seeks additional compensation for the police’s arbitrary, oppressive and unconstitutional conduct.

The police have denied liability and refused to apologise for their conduct. I have issued court proceedings on his behalf and the case is ongoing.

Police assault failures

There are chilling similarities between my clients’ cases and that of Azelle Rodney.

Eight years on, when faced with a potentially lethal threat, police officers are still failing to comply with proper procedures, using unnecessary force and mishandling the aftermath, knowing that they will be protected by the IPCC and their solicitors. We can only hope that the criticism of all involved in the Azelle Rodney case will convince the police to clean up their act.

 

If you are a victim of police assault and want to make a claim for compensation against the police, contact me using the online form below, on 0151 933 5525, or via the www.dpp-law.com website.

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Why another Taser assault exposes police failings

By Iain Gould, Solicitor

I was disappointed to read yet another story of police officers using Tasers to restrain innocent people.

Tasers are stun guns used by the police to shoot 50,000 volts of electricity into a person’s body. This has the effect of temporarily paralysing them, and can cause nausea, loss of bowel and bladder control, vomiting and on rare occasions, a heart attack. The police can use these weapons to arrest someone provided they can show that such force is reasonable and proportionate.

Blind man Tasered

The Daily Mail reports how Colin Farmer, a 61-year-old blind man carrying his white stick, was walking slowly in Chorley, Lancashire (he has had two strokes and is partially paralysed) when he was Tasered in the back by a policeman looking for a man carrying a samurai sword. Even after shouting ‘I’m blind’ Mr. Farmer’s back was knelt upon by the policeman while he put handcuffs on with such force that they broke Mr. Farmer’s bracelet.

You can watch Mr. Farmer being interviewed here. I think you will agree he does not come across as a knife wielding threat to society.

Mr. Farmer describes the police officer who Tasered him as ‘a thug’ and is taking legal action against the police force for the assault.

Amazingly, no disciplinary action was taken at the time against the officer by Lancashire Constabulary. Perhaps because of the publicity the matter has now been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

I have previously blogged on this issue, as I am now routinely receiving enquiries from people who have been subject to this form of police assault.

Police assault

In one case I am currently pursuing, my client Mr. M, a 51-year-old heavy-set, bald black man, was at home when two police officers knocked on the door. They asked his name, which he confirmed, but said that he was not the person they were looking for. My client shares the same name as his son, but does not resemble him physically. His son is 20 years younger, of slim build, with an ‘afro’ haircut and of mixed race.

The police officers ignored Mr. M and disregarded the fact that he bears no resemblance to his son, whose photograph they had seen before going to Mr. M’s house, and said they were there to arrest him for criminal damage.

Mr. M knew he had done nothing wrong and stepped back into his house. Echoing Mr. Farmer’s case, my client had his back to the police when he was Tasered, falling heavily to the floor where he was then handcuffed.

Even though Mr. M was in great pain, he begged the officers to get his personal identification. Once checked, they acknowledged their mistake. Unlike Mr. Farmer however, they then added insult to injury by arresting Mr. M with assaulting police officers and obstructing a constable in the course of his duties.

Although there were no grounds for this, he was taken to a local police station, detained, interviewed, and eventually released after 17 hours with no further action to be taken.

Not unsurprisingly, Mr. M is now pursuing a claim for police assault, unlawful arrest, trespass, false imprisonment and misfeasance in public office. I am confident he will be successful, resulting in thousands of pounds compensation being paid by the taxpayer as a result of the over-zealous use of a Taser by police officers, who then compounded the mistake by fabricating a story of assault to avoid blame.

Lack of police training

Both Colin Farmer’s and Mr. M’s case have striking similarities, not least being the lack of common sense being shown by the police officers. How can a white stick be confused for a samurai sword? How can a middle-aged, heavy-set man be confused for his son? Although the police are trained in the use of Tasers perhaps it is time a new chapter is added to the training manual: ‘How to use your brain’.

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