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QCAT increases sanction for policeman filmed assaulting drug suspect

Queensland’s criminal watchdog has successfully increased the sanctions imposed on a police officer who was filmed using abusive language and excessive force on a person suspected of possessing drugs.

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) granted an application by the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) challenging disciplinary sanctions imposed against Senior Constable Justin Zuanetti for violently striking a person, referred to as ‘GG’, three years ago.

Constable Zuanetti was performing duties at the Inala Police Station when his body-worn video camera recorded him hitting GG in the head with a “closed fist” during an attempted search at the police station on 13 December 2017.

After a disciplinary hearing and findings of use of excessive force and inappropriate language in May 2018, Constable Zuanetti received sanctions from Queensland Police Service (QPS) Acting Assistant Commissioner Glenn Horton, including a reprimand and an order to complete a professional development strategy within a three-month period.

The CCC in May (2020) filed a review of the decision in QCAT on the basis the sanction was inadequate, did not meet the need for general or professional deterrence, did not reflect the seriousness of the conduct, or meet the purposes of disciplinary action.

QCAT member Babara Kent, in a nine-page decision, set aside the sanctions imposed by QPS and ordered Constable Zuanetti to pay a fine of “16 penalty units” and follow a further professional development strategy.

The current value of a single penalty unit in Queensland is $133.35, however it is understood the fine to be imposed against the officer will be at the value of a unit at the time of the incident.

Ms Kent, in her decision, said the police officer was filmed striking and verbally abusing GG when the pair returned to the Inala Police Station for the purposes of a search for alleged drugs.

“Via images from a body-worn video, Senior Constable Zuanetti can be seen to strike GG on the right side of the head as he stumbles forward,” Ms Kent said.

“His left hand is closed in a fist and it appears that GG was visibly distressed at being searched. Regardless of the outcome of the search being undertaken, (GG) was already under police control and did not present as a threat sufficient to warrant the response of being hit in the head.

“…at the same time (the officer) was hitting GG in the head he looked to be restraining the victim in a thumb lock… (and) appeared to have (GG) under control without resorting to the violence he used.”

The tribunal was told the officer was also heard using abusive language toward GG, including a string of expletives peppered amid demands for him to quieten down and stop resisting.

The tribunal noted Senior Constable Zuanetti had been a police officer since 2008 and had no disciplinary history until the events of 2017.

“I accept the proposition that (the officer) was engaged in misconduct of a serious nature that fell far below what the public would expect of a police officer,” Ms Kent said.

“There appeared be no immediate threat (to the officer) that would warrant his striking of (GG) across the head nor … need for the demeaning language … (which) seems to indicate a lack of control or maturity.

“It appears that he was trying belittle, threaten or intimidate GG.

“After considering the conduct of (the officer), his actions in admitting his wrongdoing, the nature of what he did, the mitigating factors, his service history and the material before the tribunal, I am satisfied the sanction proposed by (the CCC and conceded by the officer) … does fall within the permissible sanction range.”

Read the full decision.

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