An Aboriginal man pepper-sprayed and tasered in a remote Top End police station is appealing against his conviction for resisting arrest and assaulting two police officers.
- Johanness Manggurra was found guilty of charges including assaulting police over the incident in Numbulwar last year
- A court found the officers’ use of force in the arrest was proportionate but lawyers argue it was unnecessary and unlawful
- Body-worn video shows Manggurra telling an officer with a taser that he had a heart problem
Body-worn video shows 24-year-old Johanness Manggurra asking to speak with a lawyer after being told he was under arrest upon visiting the Numbulwar police station to discuss unpaid fines.
In the footage, police say they will call a lawyer after the arrest but Manggurra refuses to be handcuffed, and later tells an officer who draws a taser that the weapon would kill him because of a heart problem.
In the struggle that followed, Manggurra was tasered and bit one of the officers trying to arrest him, prompting charges of resisting arrest, assaulting officers and disorderly conduct.
A Darwin Local Court judge found Manggurra had been tasered more than once but the use of force was reasonable and necessary.
Manggurra was sentenced to six months’ jail over the incident, which happened in August last year.
But lawyers are now challenging the verdict and will argue in the appeal the tasering was unlawful.
North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency lawyer Patrick Coleridge said the use of the weapon was not necessary or proportionate.
He said police mishandled the situation and the confrontation with Manggurra, who does not speak English as a first language, could have been de-escalated.
“If the police had offered him an interpreter and if the police had offered or allowed him an opportunity to speak with a lawyer, it’s entirely possible that none of what occurred subsequently would have occurred,” he said.
Twelve minutes, four charges, on video
Twelve minutes of body-worn video capturing the arrest and the lead-up to it was used as evidence during the Darwin Local Court hearing in March.
The footage starts with the two officers telling Manggurra they have to place him under arrest because of an earlier mistake regarding his parole.
No interpreter is present and the more junior officer, Constable David Woodbury, is heard telling Manggurra he understands the situation is confusing.
Mangurra makes three requests to speak with a lawyer and the police tell him they will call a lawyer but they have to arrest him first.
Mangurra then becomes visibly distressed when the constable produces handcuffs.
The senior officer, Senior Sergeant Tony Bennett, threatens to use pepper spray when Manggurra backs into a corner, yelling out for his partner who is heard shouting back from outside the station.
The sergeant then draws his Taser when Manggurra does not follow orders to turn and put his hands behind his back.
Manggurra is seen punching himself three times in the face, which both officers told the court made them concerned for his welfare and was considered an attempt to fake injuries.
Manggurra continues shouting and hunching in the corner before the sergeant puts his Taser away and fires his pepper spray after he is heard to say “I’ve had enough of this”.
Manggurra then jumps on top of a table and reaches briefly for a dangling smoke alarm, which the officers told the court they considered could be used as a weapon.
The sergeant fires the taser when Manggurra returns to the corner of the room.
A struggle continues for several more minutes, during which Mangurra bites the sergeant on the hand, drawing blood.
The sergeant can be heard saying “I’m gonna f***ing thump you, don’t you f***ing bite me”, before Manggurra is eventually wrestled into a cell.
“All he had to do” was comply: judge
At the initial hearing, Local Court Chief Judge Elizabeth Morris made no findings against the police officers.
Sergeant Bennett told the court he believed he had no choice but to use the taser because Manggurra failed to respond to verbal instructions and the force was necessary for the safety of himself, Constable Woodbury and Manggurra.
He said he did not believe that Manggurra had a heart condition and police arranged for a health assessment following the arrest.
Judge Morris said the force used by police was necessary and that a reasonable person would not consider it disproportionate.
“It’s hard for police in remote stations when there’s only two of them there… they are just two people who are trying to do their job,” she said.
“For anyone who watches this, that’s what they’re thinking.”
But Manggurra’s lawyer said the relevant police guidelines state that Tasers should only be used if there is an imminent risk of serious harm.
“We say, there was no such risk in that case,” Mr Coleridge said.
Police declined to comment on the matter before the upcoming appeal, which is due to be heard in the Northern Territory Supreme Court next month.
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