Police arrested over allegations they perverted the course of justice
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Two police officers have been suspended with pay and properties have been raided after allegations surfaced the pair perverted the course of justice when attempting to prosecute an army reservist who fled a police road stop he believed was a late-night carjacking.
The man known as Tony, who asked for his real name to be withheld to protect his privacy, intends to sue Victoria Police for alleged malicious prosecution after he was charged with endangering one of the officer’s safety during an incident at a regional service station in 2020.
Top-right corner: A CCTV image shows police pulling in alongside the Mercedes at the entrance to the service station.
The police officers involved are now under investigation by the Professional Standards Command after CCTV footage and other evidence challenged their accounts of the trio’s interaction at a Longwarry service station on June 28, 2020.
This included allegations by the police that one of the officers opened the door of the white 1998 B-Class Mercedes Tony was driving, before reaching inside and attempting to grab his keys when the Drouin man drove away.
Tony was travelling along the Princes Highway between Drouin and Longwarry when he said he noticed headlights approaching from behind, about 3.30am.
As he pulled over near a service station, where he intended to buy cigarettes, two senior constables out on patrol in a marked divisional van pulled up alongside his right rear taillight.
Unaware the headlights belonged to a police car, Tony said he locked eyes with a man in a dark-coloured beanie before driving away, fearing he was about to be carjacked.
After he fled, Tony crashed into a ditch and said he walked and then hitchhiked home to get help to recover his vehicle, but when he returned the vehicle was gone.
The following day, Tony, aged in his 40s, called the local police station in an attempt to track down the Mercedes.
Court documents show that hours later, he was arrested and charged with risking the safety of an emergency service worker.
As a result, the reservist temporarily lost his military salary and was stripped of his medals.
In their signed statements and brief of evidence submitted to court in 2020, the two officers alleged that as the driver of the white Mercedes pulled into the service station, they activated their lights and sirens before one of the officers – who was wearing a beanie at the time – jumped from their divisional van.
The officers alleged one of them then opened the door of the Mercedes and leant inside in an attempt to remove the driver’s keys. Tony, they alleged, then drove off with the officer’s arm and torso still inside his car.
The officer signed a statement that alleged he “feared” for his life during the brief encounter.
But serious discrepancies in the officers’ account have emerged based on CCTV footage recovered from the service station.
“I just didn’t get the door quite open,” one officer is heard saying on CCTV captured inside the service station after the incident. “He didn’t know we were there.”
In his police interview seen by The Age, and conducted by the two officers involved in the incident, Tony maintained he was unaware the other vehicle was a police car and did not see red and blue police lights flashing. He also denied hearing any verbal commands to pull over or that the door of his Mercedes was opened.
While the more serious charges laid against Tony were later dropped in court, the military employee pleaded guilty to careless driving and hitchhiking — which occurred soon after his interaction with the police — and was fined $500 without conviction.
Following questions from The Age, a police spokesperson confirmed Professional Standards Command investigators had arrested the two officers and conducted raids at a number of properties related to the investigation on Thursday.
The spokesperson said both officers were questioned and released pending further investigation.
“Professional Standards Command detectives have arrested two police officers as part of an investigation into an allegation of pervert the course of justice. Two male Eastern Region members, aged 31 and 32, were taken into custody for interview on April 20,” the spokesperson said.
“Search warrants were executed at multiple locations as part of the investigation. As the investigation remains ongoing, no further information can be provided at this time.”
Tony*, who asked for his real name to be withheld, says he’s been shattered by the police case against him.Credit: Eddie Jim
The Age earlier revealed Tony would sue Victoria Police for malicious prosecution and misfeasance in public office, alleging that the officers were aware CCTV footage contradicted their statements and that they had made false claims about how the interaction unfolded to bolster their case.
Tony, an army reservist for 20 years, said he’d always respected law enforcement and was working alongside police on a 24-hour roster as part of the state’s COVID-19 response when his arrest occurred.
Now, he feared police.
“At the time, in the army, we were doing worst-case scenarios stuff, getting prepared to hire shipping containers in case there was an overflow of bodies in the morgue … like we’d seen on the news in New York City. Everyone was hyper-vigilant at the point, society was starting to break down, the world was chaotic,” he told The Age.
“The last thing that I saw that night was a set of eyes that had a thousand-yard stare, like a drunk, angry person at a pub. He was wearing a dark beanie, dark clothing, and he lent forward into the foot well of his own car to grab something.”
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