News

Rushworth man suffers injuries in Shepparton police cell while resisting restraint

By Liz Mellino

An man suffered three fractured ribs and a collapsed lung while resisting restraint by police in custody in Shepparton late last month.

James Martin, 31, from Rushworth, who identifies as indigenous, was arrested for breaching his conditions of bail on May 28 and placed in an isolation cell at Shepparton police station.

CCTV footage viewed by McPherson Media Group shows him being kneed in the ribs and punched twice by a police officer while five other officers attempt to restrain him, before being handcuffed and left alone on the concrete floor for about 40 minutes until he is seen by paramedics.

While his lawyer Luke Slater told the Shepparton Magistrates’ Court his client was assaulted and left with "shocking” injuries, police said their actions were in response to the accused resisting their course of duty.

The footage shows Martin throwing his food across the floor of the cell before using a plastic cup to collect water from the toilet, which he throws on to the floor at the entrance to the cell.

A police custody officer then opens the door of the cell to retrieve the cutlery given to Martin.

The footage shows Martin walking towards the door of the cell, with Senior Constable Sam McCallum telling the court he “was advised to get back" and pass the fork to the PCO.

“Given the circumstances it is common practice to restrain a person in a police cell in handcuffs until the item can be safely accounted for,” Sen Const McCallum said.

“The accused continued towards the cell door ... a PCO took hold of the accused, and was assisted by another PCO who grabbed the accused by the arm. Together they attempted to restrain the accused.”

The CCTV shows what appears to be a struggle between Martin and the PCO, with Martin placed in a headlock and taken to the ground, with five other PCOs running to help.

Once Martin is on the ground a police constable can be seen running into the cell and kneeing the accused in the ribs before throwing two punches into his body.

The court was told Martin had “continued to resist" police and had attempted to grab equipment from one of the PCO's vests.

“The constable kneed the accused to the ribs in an attempt to get him to stop resisting; however, the accused continued grabbing at the PCO's vest,” Sen Const McCallum said.

“The constable then struck the accused to the body with his fist — the accused was then able to be handcuffed.”

Martin received three fractured ribs and a collapsed lung as a result of the incident.

The footage shows Martin was left face down on the floor of the concrete cell, with his hands cuffed behind his back, suffering from three fractured ribs and a collapsed lung.

Martin can be seen slowly moving around the cell with his head slumped.

Despite Mr Slater arguing that Martin was not seen by paramedics for about 40 minutes, a Victoria Police spokesperson told the News in a statement this was not the case.

“Officers called an ambulance as soon as the man indicated he had sustained injuries shortly after the incident,” they said.

The News understands the incident occurred around 1.45 pm.

Martin was assessed by PCOs within 15 minutes and an ambulance was called. It arrived at the scene around 2.40 pm.

Martin was taken via ambulance to Goulburn Valley Health in Shepparton where he was later transported to the Royal Melbourne Hospital for treatment and was later released.

He was charged and pleaded guilty to three charges of resisting an emergency worker (police) on duty and one charge of acting prejudicial in a police jail.

He also pleaded guilty to charges relating to his arrest, including breaching his conditions of bail.

The court was told Martin was on bail at the time while he appealed a sentence he received in the County Court for charges including theft, burglary, theft of a motor vehicle, unlawful assault and dangerous driving while being pursued by police.

The court was also told Martin had an "extremely long criminal history", with 257 charges recorded on the police database.

“He is well known to local police to be an extreme escape risk and is extremely difficult to locate when he is offending,” Sen Const McCallum told the court.

Five protective service officers and a constable attempted to restrain Martin.

Mr Slater, who appeared for Martin in court on Wednesday, said he was troubled by the treatment his client received while in custody, saying his client would be “traumatised” by the incident.

“I can’t condone what happened … what occurred in that isolation cell was just not acceptable, in my submission there was a 100 kg man with six other custody officers on top of Mr Martin,” he said.

“However he got there and however much of a nonsense he was playing up with, a knee to the rib cage, which fractured his ribs and punctured a lung, is just not on, we shouldn’t accept it.

“There are brilliant police all over Victoria and Shepparton; however, that is just not on.”

Mr Slater argued there was a lack of any "kind of resistance" from Martin towards police while he was handcuffed, describing the incident as an assault.

“He was assaulted in an isolation cell while in police custody ... you can't resist six people, I don't accept that — the footage is clear he was being held down by six.”

Following the court hearing, a police spokesperson said the actions of officers were in response to Martin refusing "to return a foreign object".

“As a result, officers attempted to restrain him in handcuffs until the item could be accounted for, as is common practice,” they said.

"The man resisted these attempts and subsequently attempted to remove police equipment from the vests of multiple officers — requiring a use of force to restrain him.

"During this incident, the man sustained injuries which required hospitalisation.”

Victoria Police Professional Standards Command has been notified of the incident.