Police Clear Police Over Use Of Pepper Spray At Anti-Pyne Protest


A complaint about the use of excessive force and pepper spray by police has been dismissed, with a Professional Standards Inspector finding spraying demonstrating students was “lawful, reasonable, proportionate and justified in the circumstances”.

The complaint was lodged after a February 13 protest targeting an event being attended by Education Minister Christopher Pyne, which resulted in a number of students being sprayed in the face, including one who is legally blind.

Video from the incident shows the demonstrators walking into the event, causing police and security to rush to the door and throw some to the ground. Shortly after, pepper spray is used seemingly at random on the crowd.

Brigitte Garozzo, who lodged a complaint after she was sprayed in the face, said she was not satisfied police had explained why the use of force was necessary.

Garozzo’s complaint said she had not been aggressive towards police during the incident.

“I think the event was open to the public and I think it may have been fair to stop people getting through if there were that many people, but the tactics they used to do it were pretty heavy handed straight away,” Garozzo said.

“Getting out pepper spray, if you’re going to use it you should only do it when there is violence.”

In response to the complaint the Professional Standards Inspector for Sydney City Local Area Command found police had not breached the law or policies governing the use pepper spray, which police call “OC defensive spray”.

The response to the complaint said an officer had called an ambulance via police radio after the spray was used.

A media release put out by NSW Police at the time of the incident said police had been attempting to keep themselves and protesters safe.

“[The protesters] attempted to push through a single door, posing a safety risk to both police and the protestors.”

“The protestors allegedly failed to comply with police instructions to move back. As further protestors were forcing their way into the foyer area, police – concerned a crowd-crush situation was imminent – deployed OC spray.”

Garozzo rejected the idea the police were acting to protect students.

“I don’t think the case at all. I’ve been to lots of protests, this wasn’t unsafe for protestors…the space itself wasn’t that small, we would have all fit in the lobby quite comfortably,” she said.

Garozzo is still be able to appeal the decision and said she is considering her options.

The February protest was just one of the scores of demonstrations and marches sparked by Pyne’s efforts to deregulate the university sector, a move that would allow universities to uncap the cost of degrees, likely seeing prices skyrocket.

With Pyne failing to win crossbench senate support for the package, and some of its most solid defenders backing away, it now appears unlikely to go ahead.

NSW Police has been contacted for comment.

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.