On Wednesday morning at Sydney’s Central Station I saw a man being dragged off a train by three RailCorp transit officers. I was alarmed by the amount of force the officers were using to restrain the man, so I pulled out my phone and started filming. Here’s the first installment of the footage that I took (links to two more can be found at the bottom of the page — they are broken up because I had to stop filming twice).
The man was handcuffed and pinned to the ground for approximately 10 minutes. He was breathing heavily, and appeared pale and unwell. It was only after he had been restrained for this long that one of the transit officers asked if he needed medical assistance. At that point they allowed him to sit up and medics were called. They arrived another 10 minutes later, along with five police officers.
It’s unclear what exactly had happened with this man earlier. On the video, he can be heard screaming that he "had a ticket". The officers who are restraining him can also be heard alleging the man had "made threats" against them. At various times throughout the video he can be heard screaming that the officers are hurting his wrist.
Transit officers have no special powers to arrest like police do. Their right to arrest is the same right that any ordinary citizen has, and is derived from s 100 of the Police (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002. It’s what’s commonly referred to as a "citizens arrest". Under s 231 of the same act persons making an arrest may only "use such force as is reasonably necessary to make the arrest or to prevent the escape of the person after arrest".
Transit officers may have arrest powers if they are appointed special constables, which gives them arrest powers. None of the officers involved in this incident identified themselves as special constables. The question then is whether what I filmed was a "reasonably necessary" use of force.
New Matilda sent footage of the incident to RailCorp along with questions, to which a spokesperson responded that RailCorp was "satisfied that at all times the transit officers acted within their operating guidelines, with respect and concern to the person concerned and in good faith. … This includes having full regard for the health and welfare of the person."
The spokesperson said there would be no investigation into the incident but that the officers involved had been de-briefed. "This is standard practice and ensures that Transit Officers are provided with support, guidance and an opportunity to discuss the incidents in full. De-briefs are also an opportunity for RailCorp to ensure compliance checks with our operating guidelines."
What disturbed me almost as much as the force being used by transit officers was the repeated attempts they made to stop me filming.
An employee of RailCorp tried for several minutes to block my view of the altercation, telling me I wasn’t allowed to film and that it was a "security breach". One of the station managers also approached me and told me "no photos". When I told him I was a journalist he said, "you can do what you want", and walked out of shot.
It didn’t stop there though. After a few more minutes transit officer badge number 5277 (he wouldn’t give me his name) approached me and said, "At this point in time I’m going to inform you that you cannot place that on the internet. You can film it for your own personal use but if it turns up on the internet, it’s an illegal act … We’re not giving you permission to use it".
He told me that I was in breach of the "communications act" and that it was unlawful to publish the material. There is absolutely no legal substance to this claim — in fact, there is no such thing as the "communications act".
Later, this same officer returned and said, "At this point in time can I get your name and address please". When I asked why, he said it was because I was filming. Once again, this request had no legal basis. Transit officers can demand the names and addresses of individuals they believe to have committed a railway offence, but they do not have the extensive identification powers that police possess.
The attempts to dissuade me from videoing the events continued though, and the transit officers’ team leader, officer 8109, can be heard telling me: "You haven’t got permission to film or photograph anyone in this area. You cannot take photos of uniformed people without their permission". Once again, this statement is untrue and has no legal basis. In fact if you are in a public place then for the most part you can film or photograph whatever you want. There are, however, restrictions on recording private conversations to which the recorder isn’t a party under the Listening Devices Act 1984 NSW.
Once the police arrived on the scene I left. I don’t know whether the man was charged with any offence or what kind of medical attention he needed.
New Matilda asked RailCorp whether transit officers were instructed to tell members of the public that filming their actions was illegal. The spokesperson replied:
"No. Transit Officers have a primary concern with the safety and welfare of the travelling public and customer service. They are also mindful of the sensitivities, privacy and dignity of members of the public brought to the notice of the Transit function for possible offences against Rail Safety Regulations. In light of this RailCorp does not agree with filming of incidents relating to members of the public on our property in difficult and perhaps sensitive circumstances, particularly when there is an explicit objection by a person involved in an event on our premises to the filming of that event.
"With this in mind RailCorp is entitled to act in such circumstances in the best interest of this broad customer service charter and we have the common law power to do so."
New NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian was not available for comment.
In 2005 the NSW Ombudsman was highly critical of the methods used by transit officers and cited a number of occasions of excessive force. He called for proper oversight to rein in officers. In 2011, it’s clear that some of RailCorp’s transit officers are still unsure of the limits to their powers — and of the laws under which they operate.
Watch the second and third installments of Paul’s video below.
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