By Alex Cooper
MELBOURNE — Many years ago Shannon Ewart was assaulted by police in Queensland, and since then has heard stories from many people who have suffered the same. One night in April, "on impulse", she did a "spray job" on the South Melbourne police station, which is notorious for police bashings. She was later arrested and alleges that she was severely beaten by police and then charged with resisting arrest and assaulting police.
Ewart was arrested on April 27 in a park in South Melbourne. The police had a Channel Seven news team in tow. The TV crew filmed her arrest and the graffiti on the police station and vehicles and then departed. That's when five days of pain and horror began for Ewart.
On the first night, she says, she was stripped naked by six police (four male and two female), handcuffed behind her back and punched repeatedly. The next day she was again assaulted by several officers. This included kicks to the left kidney and one officer punching her four times in the stomach while the others held her. She fell to the ground, and one of the cops hit her around 20 times with his baton.
After the second beating, Ewart was taken to Prahran court, where a magistrate ordered that her fingerprints be forcibly taken. She had earlier declined to be fingerprinted, as was her right. Police video-taped her fingerprinting, and she has obtained stills from that tape.
She spent the whole of April 28 handcuffed. Ewart says that this was done to make it seem to reporters at the court that she was "extremely violent". The Herald-Sun tabloid dutifully reported a fanciful police description of her as a "rampaging gypsy woman" who had single-handedly assaulted 10 police officers after trashing a police station and police vehicles with graffiti.
On April 29, she alleges that she was assaulted at Russell Street police complex. A cop pushed her against a stair bannister and gripped her throat with one hand and choked her. Other police present laughed at this.
Then she was taken back to South Melbourne police station, where she was thrown on a concrete floor. The biggest cop in the station then stood on her stomach and said: "There are 38 muscles in the stomach. I can crush every one of them!"
Early the next morning, an ambulance was called to take her to St Vincents Hospital. She was put on a drip. She told the attending doctor what had happened and showed him the bruises but was told she had to be returned to the police station. In horror of this prospect, she jumped out of a nearby window and tried to escape but was recaptured. She was then taken back to the police station and assaulted once more before being sent to prison on remand.
On the advice of a duty solicitor, Ewart pleaded guilty to the graffiti, but she was also charged and convicted on 17 counts of resisting and assaulting police. She was given a three-month jail sentence. She is appealing and is now out on bail. She has also lodged a complaint with the police ombudsman.
Ewart decided she had to tell her story to the alternative press after the commercial media in effect convicted her before trial. She chose Green Left Weekly after reading the recent issue on Aboriginal women in custody.
According to the Flemington Legal Service, bashings in police stations happen more often than most people realise. The August 21 issue of the gay and lesbian paper Brother/Sister reports that a magistrate recently ruled that Senior Constable Ian Baker from South Melbourne police station had bashed a gay man in Albert Park two years ago. The magistrate dismissed police counter-charges of assault and offensive behaviour.
Another man, Peter O'Callaghan, says that he was stopped by police on the same night in Albert Park and assaulted by the same police officer. He claimed that he was repeatedly punched and had his head bashed against a wall. A police internal inquiry found last year that he had suffered his injuries after "falling over an unknown object in the dark".
Shannon Ewart is eager to hear from anyone with experience of police bashing. She hopes to begin a class action on behalf of victims of police bashing. She can be contacted on (03) 481 8625.