A man unlawfully arrested by South Australia Police (SAPOL) following an incident in Hindley Street has been awarded over $700,000 compensation after the District Court found there was a blatant disregard for his liberty and rights.
During the violent arrest, police twice sprayed him in the face with capsicum spray, then placed him in a Figure Four Leg Lock, an extremely aggressive restraint hold that broke the man’s thigh bone.
On Saturday evening 9 March 2013, Matthew Crossley was out with friends in the Adelaide CBD, in the Hindley Street nightclub precinct, celebrating the birthday of a friend. Soon after 4.00 am the following morning, Crossley and two friends began walking along Hindley Street towards Rundle Mall, with the intention of catching a pre-arranged ride home.
Crossley and his friends encountered a melee involving 20 to 30 youths of African appearance, fighting and throwing chairs at each other, not far from the intersection of Hindley and Bank Streets. They watched the melee for a short time before walking off. One of Crossley’s friends questioned some of the participants by inquiring “(w)hat was that all about”, only to be insulted.
Soon after departing the scene, they were followed and physically accosted by “three or four” of the youths. Crossley claims to have told them to “back off, piss off” before one tried to punch another of his friends, prompting Crossley to step in and “chest bump” the youth.
It was then that Crossley claims he was grabbed. Assuming it was one of the youths, he knocked the person’s hands away, but upon looking up noticed it was a police officer and immediately apologised. Crossley told the officer “it was a mistake” and simultaneously put his hands up in a submissive gesture of surrender.
The officers who first approached Crossley were Senior Constable Carter and Probationary Constable Grimshaw, but it remains unclear which officer grabbed him.
Carter and Grimshaw led Crossley away from the group and along Bank Street. The officers claimed he was acting erratically and disorderly, and that they were attempting to calm him down.
Crossley expressed confusion at being led away by police when he and his friends were doing nothing wrong and simply trying to get home. He pleaded with the officers to listen to him and let him explain the situation.
One of Crossley’s friends also pleaded with the officers to listen to his account, only to be threatened with arrest also.
Crossley and his friends were clearly frustrated by the fact police had ignored the brawling youths and were instead picking on them.
The police claimed they targeted Crossley because he “stood out as the one person what seemed agitated and aggressive.”
Whether this is true or not, targeting three lone males would have no doubt been a far less daunting prospect for the officers than dealing with a group of 20-30 aggressive youths.
Upon reaching the Eastern kerb of Bank Street, Grimshaw claims to have asked Crossley for identification and informed him he was suspected for an assault.
Carter claimed at this point he felt threatened by Crossley, and so sprayed him in the face with pepper spray.
Carter claims Crossley’s response to being sprayed was “Don’t fucking spray me again. I love fucking pepper spray,” or “I put spicier sauce on my steak.”
Carter then sprayed Crossley again.
Crossley described the sensation of being sprayed as, “lava on my face … pretty painful … burning all over,” leaving him unable to see and leading him to “back away.”
After capsicum spraying him twice, police followed Crossley as he moved northwards up Bank Street. They then attampted to arrest him. By this point, Carter and Grimshaw had been joined by a Sargeant Mann and a Probationary Constable Lovell.
It was Lovell who applied the Figure Four Leg Lock to Crossley. While doing so, Lovell admits he heard a “loud pop.” This was most likely the sound of Crossley’s left femur (thigh bone) fracturing.
Crossley was then handcuffed.
Anyone with even a modicum of knowledge about the fighting arts knows leg locks are extremely damaging manuevers that can easily result in damaged joints and broken bones.
The Court was shown how the Figure Four Leg Lock is illustrated in detail in the South Australia Police Defensive Tactics Manual.
For South Australia Police officers to be employing this lock when dealing with an outnumbered, unarmed and largely compliant subject demonstrates an extreme lack of professionalism.
Predictably, the officers claimed their actions were necessitated because Crossley was acting in a threatening, agitated manner.
Lovell specifically claimed he was “forced” to apply the leg lock, the purpose of which he says he understood to be to restrain the legs of a person who is “thrashing and kicking their legs and posing a danger … to police and potentially to themselves,” which he considered Crossley was doing.
Luckily for Crossley, and unfortunately for the police, the incident was captured on CCTV footage.
The Police Version of Events vs What Really Happened
Despite claims by the officers that Crossley had adopted threatening stances with clenched fists, Judge Tilmouth noted that in none of the CCTV footage was Crossley seen with a clenched fist or fists.
Judge Tilmouth noted that, prior to being pepper sprayed, Crossley’s movements and demeanour in the CCTV footage was consistent with him pleading his side of the story to police, rather than being aggressive and threatening.
Judge Tilmouth further stated “the CCTV footage does not support the conclusion that the police were subjected to the kind of ‘barrage of shouting’ as claimed by them.”
No sign of aggression by Crossley was evident in the CCTV footage, until a verbal exchange in which Carter persisted in placing his palm against Crossley’s stomach. Crossley then pushed Carter’s palm and arm away from his abdomen and then pointed his fingers at Carter. Crossley said he did this because Carter “was being a bit rough with me.”
Crossley then adopted a stance that Judge Tilmouth described as “once again more consistent with a pleading stance than it is with a threatening one”
When pressed under cross-examination, Grimshaw was forced to admit Crossley’s physical demeanour was not aggressive. Instead, Grimshaw claimed, “[i]t was more the words he was using.”
Judge Tilmouth was also unconvinced by Carter’s claim that, after being sprayed, Crossley said “Don’t fucking spray me again. I love fucking pepper spray,” or “I put spicier sauce on my steak.” CCTV footage did not appear to show Crossley saying anything. Contrary to Carter’s claim that he sprayed Crossley twice because the first spray was ineffective, Judge Tilmouth observed from the CCTV footage the two sprays occurred in very short succession.“Carter was determined to spray for a second time irrespective of the circumstances,” noted the judge, “as he is seen in this time span at the ready to fire again, the only thing holding him back was the proximity of other police officers who might be too close to the firing line.”
SAPOL guidelines stipulate pepper spray is only to be used in violent situations. Judge Tilmouth found “there was no occasion of self-defence and there was no violent situation to resolve, so the use of the capsicum spray twice was therefore unlawful”
“Viewed objectively,” said Judge Tilmouth, “the situation was not one of an immediate threat of violence or of imminent danger to the police. It was one of impasse. The police had already achieved their objective of removing Mr Crossley from the problem area, they were not dealing with his protestations and they continued to pursue him having achieved their purpose of defusing the situation, even though he walked away from it to the Eastern side of Bank Street.”
In other words, ego and offence at being verbally challenged appeared to be the real issues affecting the police.
At the point of his arrest, Crossley was not physically aggressive and was not attempting to flee. His companions were not interfering and although people were beginning to mill about, none were in the immediate vicinity or at risk as other police had successfully deployed crowd control measures.
Three officers then attempted to handcuff Crossley, despite the judge finding “[t]here was simply no basis in these circumstances, reasonable or otherwise, for placing Mr Crossley in handcuffs.”
Crossley was in no position to “get up” and “walk or run away.” There was nothing, Judge Tilmouth further noted, in the CCTV footage to support the police claim Crossley was ‘”kicking and thrashing” about or “struggling back and forth.”
Despite this, Lovell proceeded to apply the Figure Four Leg Lock to Crossley, breaking his left thigh bone.
As a result of Lovell’s actions, Crossley was taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital, where he underwent surgery to have a 40cm pin inserted in his leg. He has since had a two further surgeries for the injury.
The court heard the injury has left Crossley with a permanent disability to his lower left leg. He was forced to use crutches for almost a year after the incident.
His treating psychiatrist, Dr Sarojana Hapuarachchi, said Crossley presented with symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder, including depressed mood, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts.
No police officers have been held accountable for the arrest by the hopelessly corrupt SAPOL, which enjoys the ridiculous luxury of being able to investigate itself when complaints are made against it and its officers.
On 25 February 2020, Judge Tilmouth ruled Crossley was not told in clear terms the reasons for his arrest, was unlawfully sprayed twice with capsicum spray, and the action of executing a Four Figure Leg Lock’ during that arrest was unnecessary and excessive, and amounted to a third unjustified act of battery.
On 15 May 2020, Tilmouth awarded Crossley over $700,000 for his physical and psychological pain and suffering, expenses and loss of earnings.