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Qld police face violent arrest claims -

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Qld police face violent arrest claims

Reporter: Peter McCutcheon

KERRY O'BRIEN: The way Queensland police use public nuisance laws has been under scrutiny since the
death in custody of an Aboriginal man from Palm Island two years ago. The man, known as Mulrunji,
was arrested for public drunkenness, prompting a Queensland coroner recently to recommend changes
to police arrest powers for minor offences. Critics of Queensland's public nuisance laws have now
seized on another case of what they call an inappropriate arrest. But this time the extremely
physical arrest occurred not in a remote Aboriginal community, but in the heart of Brisbane. And it
was captured on video, as Peter McCutcheon reports.

BRUCE ROWE: I said, "I'm an old man, you're about to snap my arm". And he didn't ease off. But
fortunately he didn't go any further.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: It's not the sort of image the Queensland Police Service would like to project.
This surveillance camera video shows a violent arrest in one of Brisbane's busiest and most popular
thoroughfares back in July. The man being subdued by police is a slightly built 65 year old
pensioner, Bruce Rowe, who has spent the past winter living on the streets. Four officers pin him
to the ground with two more looking on, as one policeman repeatedly drives a knee into his leg.

BRUCE ROWE: I was flabbergasted. I couldn't believe the situation that I was in.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: On Friday, Bruce Rowe appeared before a magistrate and was found guilty of public
nuisance offences, but he's not letting the matter rest there, lodging a complaint about the way he
was handled by police.

BRUCE ROWE: I just wanted a little bit of commonsense to prevail, but it wasn't that way.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: His lawyers say the case illustrates problems with Queensland's public nuisance
laws, particularly in the way they are applied to the homeless.

MONICA TAYLOR, HOMELESS PERSONS LEGAL CENTRE: The anecdotal evidence of our clients is, certainly
suggests, that this isn't an isolated incident.

JUDY SPENCE, QLD POLICE MINISTER: Look, frankly we make no apologies for trying to make our public
spaces in this State as safe as possible for everyone.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: So this is where it all happened?

BRUCE ROWE: Yes, Peter.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Just over there?

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Bruce Rowe has been sleeping rough, spending nights in boarding houses and under
bridges. The former draughtsman explains his homelessness was the result of a depressive illness.

BRUCE ROWE: Well, it was triggered by the loss of my wife to breast cancer, three years and three
months ago. I was married for 41 years. She was my soul mate. There never was another woman in my
life. I was with her when she took her last breath and it had a terrible impact on me.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: The surveillance tape of the Queen Street Mall on a Sunday night last July sets
the scene for Bruce Rowe's run in with the law. A council worker closes the public toilets for
cleaning while Bruce Rowe is still in the cubicle. He says he was merely changing out of his good
clothes which he'd worn to church. The two men argued about the time Bruce Rowe was taking to get

BRUCE ROWE: I'd been to a gospel meeting. I only wanted to change out of my clothes and I found
myself in this absurd situation. I couldn't believe what was happening.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Police at the time believed Bruce Rowe had stepped over a rope closing off the
toilets to go into the cubicle, although a magistrate found the accused was already inside when the
cleaner arrived. The subsequent confrontation was recorded by police.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Did you barge into an officer and quoting from the police report "glare in a
provocative gesture"?

BRUCE ROWE: The barging bit is absolute rubbish. I didn't touch a police officer.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Magistrate John Smith found the order for Bruce Rowe to leave the mall was lawful
and found him guilty of refusing to follow a police direction and obstructing police in the course
of their duty. However, given Bruce Rowe's circumstances, the magistrate decided not to record a
conviction, and as for the way Bruce Rowe was arrested, well, the magistrate said it could have
been done without the number of officers involved and without pinning him to the ground.

JUDY SPENCE: Most people, and I'm like most people, look at that footage and think that it looks
pretty dreadful and it looks like an excessive use of police force.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Queensland Police Minister Judy Spence says police are reviewing their training
and procedures, but argues most Queenslanders support the State's tough public nuisance laws.

JUDY SPENCE: So people who are engaging in threatening, intimidating behaviour, we want police to
be able to take some action against them.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Your client ignored a police request to move on. Isn't he asking for trouble?

MONICA TAYLOR: Our client asked for more time in the situation and the context of the move on
direction is always really important.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Monica Taylor is a lawyer who works with the homeless. She argues this case is
not only about police behaviour, but also about Queensland's public nuisance laws, giving police
the right to ask people to move on from public spaces.

MONICA TAYLOR: Our view is that public space laws disproportionately and detrimentally impact on
homeless people because they're heavy users of public space. Because homeless people in that
situation have no alternative but to conduct their very private activities in public, they become
overly susceptible to police interest and, therefore, the public space laws.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Bruce Rowe is now living in modest accommodation provided by a friend and is
pushing ahead with an appeal against his conviction. Police may be reviewing their arrest
procedures, but for Bruce Rowe, that gives little comfort.

BRUCE ROWE: I'm frightened of police. I'll never view police the same way again and it frightens me
because they can do things that the general public can't do. They can do it and get away with it.

(c) 2006 ABC