ABC North Coast: Byron Bay police officer tells court teen seemed ‘unpredictable’ during ‘unsettling’ arrest

A New South Wales police officer says a teenager had a “drunken haymaker swing” at him before he was pepper sprayed in an incident that resulted in another officer being charged with assault.

Key points:

  • Michial Greenhalgh is facing a charge of common assault stemming from the 2018 arrest of a teenager
  • Phone footage of the arrest has been submitted to the court
  • An investigation was launched after footage of the arrest was broadcast by the media

The evidence is part of a four-day hearing into the alleged assault of a 16-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, in Byron Bay in January 2018.

Four police officers were involved in detaining the teenager after they responded to reports of a naked male, seemingly under the influence of alcohol and drugs, on Lateen Lane at about 2.30am.

The incident, which involved capsicum spray, tasering and repeated baton strikes, was captured on a smartphone, sparking an investigation by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission.

Police officer Michial Greenhalgh was charged with common assault for six of his 18 baton strikes to the teenager, which the prosecution said was an “unreasonable use of force.”

Mr Greenhalgh has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

‘Strikes after he was handcuffed’

Byron Bay police officer Senior Constable Matthew Roach was Mr Greenhalgh’s partner on the night of the incident.

He told Lismore Local Court that when they arrived on scene he tried to engage with the young man by asking him to calm down so they could help.

“He was obviously drug-affected,” Senior Constable Roach said.

“He was walking towards us and he wasn’t engaging with us.

“He just seemed unpredictable.”

Senior Constable Roach said the teenager had a “drunken haymaker swing” at him before he deployed his pepper spray in the boy’s face in an effort to detain him.

“He got closer to me … and I said, ‘Mate, if you don’t calm down, you’re going to get a gob full of this,'” he said.

He said the OC spray appeared to have little effect.

Mr Greenhalgh then fired a taser, which triggered an automatic video recording that was played to the court.

Senior Constable Roach said a third officer struck the young man with a baton to the legs.

All four officers were then able to get the young man on the ground and handcuff him.

He said the young man, who was sweating profusely, came close to removing the first pair, and a second pair of handcuffs were used.

Senior Constable Roach said he was focused on keeping the handcuffs secure when he heard a number of baton strikes delivered by Mr Greenhalgh.

“I didn’t see everything,” Senior Constable Roach said.

“I heard a number of strikes after he was handcuffed.”

Senior Constable Roach said the young person was “detained more than arrested” and taken to hospital because he was drug-affected and could have been a danger to himself and other members of the community.

‘Not an aggressive manner’

Earlier in the day the court heard evidence from Shane Marion, a holidaymaker who said he considered filming the incident because it was “pretty unsettling” to watch.

Mr Marion told the court he was holidaying in Byron Bay and witnessed the arrest from his balcony, overlooking Lateen Lane.

“Initially I was going to record the incident,” he said.

“I just didn’t know how it was going to pan out for the kid and for the police attending.”

Mr Marion said before police arrived, the young man appeared “a bit agitated” and was yelling and screaming things like, “help me, I just need some f***ing water”.

Mr Marion said the young man approached a small group of people standing nearby, who tried to calm him down.

“I wouldn’t say it was an aggressive manner,” he said.

“I would say it was a confused manner.”

Mr Marion told the court he heard police try to pacify the young man when they first arrived on scene.

“The police basically said, ‘We’re here to help you, settle down buddy, settle down mate’ … words to that effect.”

Mr Marion described watching the situation escalate, with police using capsicum spray, a taser and batons while the young man continued to yell for water and help.

“I do remember … him saying ‘I’m not resisting,'” he said.

“He was still agitated, he was confused — he just didn’t want to be there, he wanted to get out of there pretty quickly.

“[It] was pretty unsettling to sort of watch.”

Mr Marion said he went inside to get his phone but found the battery was dead, so he returned to the balcony and continued to watch the incident unfold.

Defence barrister Brent Haverfield asked why the witness didn’t use the term “aggressive” in today’s evidence despite him having used it previously, including during an interview recorded in February 2018 and during subsequent inquiries in March 2018.

“Back then when it was fresh in your mind you used the word ‘aggressive,'” Mr Haverfield said.

The Defence will resume its cross-examination of Sen-Constable Roach, when the hearing resumes for a third day tomorrow.

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