An elite police strike force engaged in “deliberate, deceitful and malicious harassment” of a solicitor representing a bikie after he refused a request for officers to give their court evidence by video-link, the law enforcement watchdog has found.
The intimidation, on two consecutive days in May 2019, has been branded “serious misconduct” and “disgraceful” by investigators from the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC).
In a report released late on Friday, LECC found that officers from Strike Force Raptor had to travel to regional NSW to give evidence in a court case because the solicitor refused their request to appear via video link, “as was his right”.
On the morning of the hearing, two junior officers from Strike Force Raptor waited outside the solicitor’s home from about 6.30am. A sergeant in Raptor, who was not happy about the regional travel, instructed one of the officers to ensure the solicitor “doesn’t make it to court”.
The solicitor was followed as he drove to a tyre shop and was fined for not indicating as he reversed out of his driveway and not carrying his licence.
His car was pulled over for an inspection on the drive home and given a defect for issues including an oil leak, which he could not see. A mechanic later inspected the car and found it had no defects.
When the solicitor decided to catch a taxi to work, the taxi driver was also pulled over and given a ticket for failing to indicate when exiting a roundabout. Police then waited outside the solicitor’s office.
The solicitor was so shaken when he arrived at court that he could not represent his client that day and advised the client to get another lawyer. He was allowed to leave through a private entrance used by the magistrate because up to ten Strike Force Raptor officers were waiting outside.
The strike force was established in 2009 to target serious criminal activity, such as outlaw motorcycle gangs, by disrupting their activities including through traffic enforcement.
LECC found the targeting of the solicitor was “serious misconduct” carried out for no legitimate policing purpose, which amounted to “deliberate, deceitful and malicious harassment”.
“They harassed and intimidated [the solicitor] to such an extent that he could not represent [his client] to the best of his abilities,” LECC found.
In evidence to the commission, a Detective Chief Inspector who has since left Raptor said he first learned about the targeting of the solicitor when a local police officer called to ask him about it.
He said he called the sergeant involved – given the pseudonym Officer MON5 – and was told something like “if he’s going to get us all up there, then he can get targeted with the bikies”. The chief inspector understood this to refer to the solicitor’s request that police attend court in person.
“His understanding was that Officer MON5 had instructed Officers MON3 and MON4 to interact with [the solicitor], and that they had issued [the solicitor] with relatively trivial traffic offences,” the report said.
“This concerned him because in his view [the solicitor] should not have been targeted.”
When Officer MON5 returned from the regional town, the chief inspector asked him, “what, are you going to attack a Magistrate next because you lose a court matter?”
He told the sergeant that a solicitor is “a part of the judicial system” and is not to be targeted, but didn’t think the other officer understood, so kept “pushing the point until I got it through”.
“Soon after this incident, he gathered Strike Force Raptor officers together for a meeting, including Officer MON5, to explain why solicitors are not to be targeted,” LECC said.
The commission said in its report that it is “concerned about the sense of entitlement” that can develop in an elite strike force like Raptor.
“If you are an elite, are you bound by the rule of law and the policies of the NSWPF or are you bigger, better, harder and more entitled?” LECC said.
“The task of these officers is to enforce the law. If the unlawful conduct engaged in by these officers is allowed to continue and be condoned because of some imagined higher purpose, there can be no good to come from it for the people of New South Wales.”
The solicitor targeted was described by LECC as “a pillar of the community” who has never been involved in any criminal activity and was just doing his job. It was recommended that senior police contact him to apologise “as soon as possible”.
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