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Get Byron Reps to Police Hearing

$2,055 of $2,000 goal

Raised by 33 people in 8 months
A PERSONAL INSIGHT INTO THE LAW ENFORCEMENT CONDUCT COMMISSION HEARING INTO THE JAN 11 INCIDENT INVOLVING A 16 YEAR OLD BOY AND POLICE IN BYRON BAY - from Nicqui Yazdi, who has been attending the hearing in Sydney this week on behalf of the Mayor and Byron Community ~

Like everyone else, when I saw the ACA footage of the incident between a 16 year old naked boy and police in Byron in January, I was shocked and I wanted answers to how this could happen in our community and why it was that it was a month after this had taken place, yet it was the first we were hearing about it. Well unlike everyone else, this week I have been at the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission hearing in Sydney into this incident and have been given many of those answers and they have not been what I might have expected.

As a long-term youth worker in Byron, and someone who personally has the task of looking after the largest numbers of young people in our town, the more than 10,000 schoolies who come each year, as well as working with our own youth all year round for more than 10 years now, I was so affronted by what I had seen in that video, that the first thing I wanted to do, was to form an opinion on what that incident had been, I wanted to protect all of our young people, locals and visitors alike, from an incident like this ever happening again. But as someone who also works closely with police, I am also acutely aware of the kind of high stress work that faces them daily, and in particular, nightly, the terrible fall-out from the high levels of alcohol and drug issues that exist in our tiny former-haven, as their jobs have become so much harder the last 10 years, as the tourist numbers way outweigh residents on an ever increasing number.

There is no doubting that police in Byron have probably the hardest job in all of NSW, with probably the least supports, being that our Tweed/Byron Local Area Command is the farthest from Sydney and so often, like so many other issues in our town, they are left out when it comes to serious supports for our local police. There are way too many who are on stress-leave which accounts for 30% of our police force at any time, and at the moment, there are also 30 police who cannot strap on a gun, due to having been involved in traumatic incidents, or having sustained injuries. This leaves our community vulnerable and it leaves our police far less protected themselves, than they should be. And let’s face it, this also leads to low moral among our front line workers, who’s job it is, to keep our community safe.

But as is often the case, what we see and hear from the national media is often not quite what the truth of a matter is, it’s also always over-sensationalised if it has Byron Bay in the title, and I have learned over the years where I have had to deal with this sort of media coming straight at me at times like Schoolies, that you have to weed through the quagmire of dirt, to find the truth, and in this case, I’ve learned that my instincts on this were right. The truth of this incident is a lot different to what I might have at first thought.

This week has been one of the hardest emotionally of my whole life. I have sat in the most serious court room that I have ever seen, with the largest number of lawyers, each representing the police involved, witnesses, the family of the boy, all being seen over by a former high court judge, an extraordinary man, whose only interest is the truth and nothing but the truth and I have witnessed the saddest of stories unfolding before my eyes, the truth as to what happened in Byron Bay in the early hours of January 11 this year, when ‘a 16 year old drugged naked boy with Aspergers, had a terrible run in with four local police’. But that sentence could also be reversed, it could be said this way, ‘the terrible run in that police had with a 16 year old naked boy on drugs’. What I have learned is that there is nothing black and white about this incident, and there will be no winners from this LECC hearing either, not the family of this boy or our local police, nor will the stain of this incident be removed from our community in a hurry, in fact, this incident will haunt us for many years to come, in so many ways.

Firstly, as is often the case, the initial media frenzy over this incident only told one side of this story, it was a police beat up, and as always a beat up on Byron Bay itself. It only contained the briefest fact, that a 2 minute 30 second video had been taken of what appears to be the police beating a totally out of it 16 year old on drugs with batons, when he appears for most of it, to be on the ground and therefore one might assume that he was passive and should easily have been contained without such use of excessive force. You might also assume from the noise he is making that this is purely from the batons coming down on him. I made that assumption immediately myself. But in the same moment, I also thought that this was a drug-induced incident and one that the police face nightly in Byron, that puts their own lives at risk too. The truth to this story lies somewhere in between as I have learned in the last few weeks.

When I read only just over a week ago, that there was going to be a hearing in Sydney into this incident, I was mad as hell. I had written both a complaint to police and also a complaint to the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission in the very first instance after seeing the ACA story. I was angry that this had happened in our town and I wanted answers. So I was very angry when the LECC put out their media release on the hearing, just over one week before it was to happen and that it wasn’t happening in our community, as I believed we needed to be given answers as a whole community. I immediately contacted them and aired my dissatisfaction on behalf of our community, that this process was not transparent, as it had excluded our community as a whole, being in Sydney and with no real notice to have our community represented. But I have since realised that if this hearing had happened in Byron, because of the passionate and caring nature of our local people, it could have been a lynch mob, so in the end, I am actually glad it has taken place in Sydney without any real fan fare other than an initial media scramble on the first day, as I can’t now see how this would have been as serious and fair a process, if there had been hundreds of angry locals storming and protesting, if a suitable venue had been found in Byron. Yes, it is sometimes good to have all the facts before passing judgement and I have more than had my eyes and mind opened through this process of the LECC hearing.

When notice of the hearing first came to light, I immediately contacted our Mayor Simon Richardson, as he and I had already had communications about this incident over the last month and had planned meet with the police to discuss it. I then started a gofundme campaign to at least send a few people to the hearing, so that our town could have some kind of representation to collect those answers that the community as a whole were screaming for. In a matter of days we raised enough money to send two people down, and others were offered to come, but when we learned that this hearing could go on for days, it meant that council couldn’t shuffle a staff member around at such short notice, so Simon contributed to this attendance from the Mayoral Discretionary Funds and I contacted other youth workers and community workers who unfortunately couldn’t take indefinite days off work either, so in the end it came down to myself and a young man I mentor, a local 22 year old, and we both came to Sydney this week to sit in on this hearing and prepare a report for the community of Byron.

We went to Tweed the week before the hearing and had a long meeting with our local Tweed Byron LAC Commander Wayne Starling. Wayne is a very good man and someone I personally greatly admire both as a human and as a police officer, he too has a passion for young people and has personally run indigenous youth leadership programs for many, many years. He briefed us on what form the hearing would take and made it his personal mission to make sure that we were also looked out for while we were here, and on the very first morning, he took us for breakfast and prepared us even further for what was to come. He of course is here to make sure his men are safe and supported through this process and he has gone above and beyond to watch over them and has even brought a psychologist for them, who has been here the entire duration. I have no doubt that this must be the hardest thing he has ever had to face in his many years in the police force. The police officers involved in this incident are not in good shape, they are devastated and clearly remorseful over what happened. They are not bad men, they are men who have chosen to give their work lives to protecting our community and trying to keep the peace in what is far from a peaceful place any longer. I too feel deep distress for these men and their families, some of their wives are here, a sister, a father and they are all sitting through something I am sure they never thought would happen to them. No one is sitting here casting blame, even the family of this boy agree that what has happened in this incident is beyond any one person’s blame, it is a situation that has arisen due to abnormal circumstances and all the family want to see, is that yes, justice is served, but that changes are made to ensure that police have better training, so that nothing like this happens to another child like their son. As yet, they have not instigated any charges against police, they too are just witnesses to the process of the LECC.

As we walked into the LECC hearing court on Monday morning, the very first person to find us and make contact, was the father and brother of the 16 year old boy. They told me straight away that they were grateful we were here and that this boy’s Mum had actually contributed to our gofundme campaign as they wanted to make sure we got here. They are such lovely people and so obviously hurting from this experience, but they are also fair and just and only want for positive outcomes for all. We have sat directly behind them the entire duration, spent time with them outside of the hearing, on breaks, lunch and at the end of the days and we have formed a bond wth them on behalf of our community, a place they dearly love and they hope to bring their boy back to in the near future, so that he can heal from this incident, but more importantly they want to help heal Byron too and plan that when he is ready, their son will come and speak with the community about what happened to him.

But we are also here to support our local police, yes, that’s right, these men are local people, with local families and we came with an open mind, no judgements and were prepared to let this hearing unfold in it’s natural course, as it was very obvious from the moment we all stepped into that daunting room, that we were all in this together, the family, the police, the lawyers, the witnesses, there are no winners or losers here, we are all just a part of a big tragedy that none of us want to see ever happen again.

Here are the basic facts in a nutshell. A 16 year old boy with Aspergers was holidaying with his family in Byron Bay. They went to dinner and afterwards he asked to go for a walk. His parents saw no reason for him not to, and he went off and was in constant contact with them until around midnight, when he no longer answered his phone, so at around 1am his mother called the police to say that her son was missing. During those few hours, this 16 year old has been given two tabs of acid by a group of young people who told him they were from the Gold Coast. He had no idea what acid was and became increasingly disoriented, distressed and has over-heated and taken his clothes off. He was upset with god for doing this to him, so he paced up and down, screaming to his god, asking why he had done this to him. This is witnessed by around a dozen people in a back laneway of town. At around 2am due to the noise this young man was making and his distressed state, various people called the HLO hotline and police and police attended within minutes, two cars, four officers, and just minutes later, a terrible scene had taken place and this young man was in police custody and was taken to the police station. He was later transported to the Tweed Heads Hospital and his parents were contacted by the hospital a little after 4am. Those are the basic facts. But the truth is a much longer story and that is what has been unfolding through this hearing in Sydney this week.

Here is where we need to take a step back and look at what has happened to Byron police recently. They have faced ever-increasing issues with drug-fuelled revellers, and in just the last few months a few incidents have led them to attempt to introduce new measures to protect themselves from the high number of injuries they are receiving attending these sorts of incidents. On Christmas Day at the lighthouse they had a scene unfold that must have been horrific for them, a naked drug-fuelled man dragged a police officer out of a police vehicle and then he hurled himself into the windscreen of the car, smashing it. He was almost impossible to contain. This incident led to new measures including having to have four police attend such call-outs in the future, as the phenomenal strength of some people when on drugs, has meant that just two officers are not enough to contain these people and that they now also have to keep the doors of their police vehicles locked until they have been able to properly assess the scenes they go to. There have been a number of these sorts of incidents just in the last few months.

So, in the early hours of January 11, the police arrived in the laneway, seeing a naked young man, who appeared to them to have been on drugs and who was extremely agitated, pacing up and down, yelling to the sky and to them and did not initially respond to their commands and all they saw was the potential that someone was going to get hurt. The two police vehicles arrived in the laneway 22 seconds apart, this has been ascertained from CCTV footage taken in the lane. By the time the first officer from the second car alights the vehicle, one of the first two officers to the scene was administering capsicum spray and as the second officer, in the passenger side of the second car scrambled over through the drivers side door, as he could not get his own door to unlock, the taser is fired the first of three times within 10 seconds. Both of the officers of the second car join the first two and they attempt to contain this young man, who is now screaming even more having been sprayed and tasered. They had no time to assess what had come before they had arrived, they just followed the commands of the first two officers, tried to get this young man onto the ground, but as all four police have explained over and over, this boy was sweating profusely, he was extremely slippery and therefore their efforts to contain him in any way were fruitless, and this boy keeps standing, no matter what they do, he isn’t following commands to get down on the ground, he isn’t producing his hands so that they can cuff him, he isn’t able to follow even these simple commands in any way, so the horrific scene unfolds that we have all seen in the video footage. Was there excessive force used, maybe, but that is not our place to make that judgement, that has to be done under the guidance of the LECC, once they have all of the facts in front of them.

This hearing has been horrendous for every single person in the room, but none more than the family and the officers involved. But one thing that is clear from what has been shown so far, is that NSW police are not adequately trained to deal with mental health and high-level drug situations, nor would it be easy to determine between the two, at such short intervals as they have when they first arrive at a scene like this.

But what came after this, is just as terrible, once they got this boy back to the station and that too needs proper investigation and although the hearing will inevitably finish this week, it will be many more months of investigations by the LECC behind the scene, going over all the facts presented and more facts they will continue to gather, until there will be an outcome from this hearing. In the meantime, all we can do as a community is wait and try not to form judgements over this case. If anything we need to look at how to bring in changes that would see incidences like this reduce in our community, we need to look at better training for police, we need to look at the drug and alcohol issues in our town and we need to work together to make this tragic incident a catalyst for positive change on so many levels.

I took this on because I couldn’t move past it. I have been asking for many years for better relationships between the police and our local youth and I am determined to make that happen, as are the local police. We do intend to work together to create a safer environment for police and the community as a whole, but this is something we all need to work together on. Byron Bay is drowning under the tide of increasing tourism numbers, increasing drug and alcohol problems, and increasing violence. This is not just a police problem, it is a community problem and the way forward is a long road, but one we must all travel together.

In the coming months we will hold a public forum in Byron to learn the outcomes of this LECC hearing, but we will also hold a forum to look at actions to take from here, to address all of the problems that Byron has. We need to make this community a safer place for our local youth and our local people, but also for the visitors who come here, even if they are a major part of the problem. Because among those visitors, are boys like this 16 year old and his family, who love Byron, but they are now scarred over a terrible and tragic indecent that seems to be no one’s fault, except the culture of the party-town image of Byron, where Gold Coast young people have given drugs to a boy with Aspergers, that led to one of the most terrible things that has ever befallen our community… and our local police and this holidaying family.

Please, stop the judgements and let’s start to work together to make this indecent matter. Byron Bay is a beautiful place and we can’t let an incident like this leave a permanent scar, we need to heal our community and we need to do this as a collective.

The hearing continues today and possibly tomorrow. In the coming weeks, I will be preparing a report on the hearing for our Mayor and to be made public to our community, and also recommendations to go to the LECC, the Minister of Police and the NSW Government, on how to make sure that incidents like this never happen again here. Nicqui Yazdi
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Please have a read of the 'STORY' (front page of the campaign) as I have written an update there for all who contributed to the campaign, on the LECC hearing. It is still going on, and I will update again in the next few days. Thank you once again for your support.
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Just an update - BIG thanks to those who have contributed to this campaign, and we want you to know that we are now ready almost to go, and we will fly down on Sunday to be there early enough to be able to hand in submissions from the Byron Community. We have had discussions with both the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) and the heads of local Tweed/Byron Police who have both been very helpful in educating us as to how this hearing will take place and the processes of the LECC. We also want you to understand that we aren't a lynch-mob, we are community-minded local Byron Shire people and we are not intending to beat police up about this incident, quite the opposite, we are simply attending so that we can inform the Byron community about this hearing and also what else may come from this. There have been recent discussions which I have been involved in, regarding the need for further training for NSW Police in mental health, alcohol and other drugs and other programs that would benefit the police themselves in their work, as well of course as the communities they work in, as of course education on these subjects are key to how they respond to those who may be suffering from mental health issues and/or the effects of drugs. We also would like to see a more transparent form of investigations of incidents like this, from the initial outset and that even that the LECC inquires in future, are handled in a manner that also includes properly informing the community, the councils, and other interested parties, of these sorts of hearings, in a timely fashion and not just through generic media releases. This has been a big few days of discussions with various parties and already, the LECC has assured us that in the future these things will happen, those who complain will be informed of hearings, and that where at all possible, these hearings will be moved to communities where the incidents occur. James and I will be there in Sydney for the duration, mostly uncontactable, as we will be without any electronic devices, including phones, while the hearing is taking place. We will keep you informed though and will prepare a report to go to Council and the community when we return. Once again, than you for all of your support. This is what makes our community great! That so many people really do care....
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UPDATE - we have learned since we put up this campaign this morning, that this hearing may go for a few days, so we will now also be needing some accommodation and will take this on a day to day basis, once we are in Sydney, and will make sure that at least a few of the Byron community representatives can try and stay for the duration if at all possible. So we are increasing the funding needed to make this happen, to $2000 just in case. We will keep you informed of how the hearing goes, while we are there, so please, do come back to the campaign page and check for further updates.
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Raised by 33 people in 8 months
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