Investigations

An Aboriginal man filmed being tasered by police is appealing his assault conviction

Johanness Manggurra during his arrest in Numbulwar. Source: Supplied to SBS News

Bodycam footage shows Johanness Manggurra being pepper-sprayed and tasered during his arrest last year. He was charged with assaulting two police officers and has now filed for an appeal in the Northern Territory Supreme Court.

Content warning: This article and video contains graphic material

Twenty-four-year-old Aboriginal man Johanness Manggurra, who it is claimed was “unlawfully” tasered during his arrest in Numbulwar in the Northern Territory last year, is filing an appeal via the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA).

Mr Manggurra went to the local police station voluntarily on 27 August 2019 to pay some fines, and while there was told a judge made a mistake in a previous court appearance and that he was now in breach of his parole. 

He was told he would be allowed to call a lawyer but only after he was taken to a holding cell in the back of the station. During his arrest pepper spray and a taser were used.  

Mr Manggurra was later charged and convicted of resisting a member of the police force during the execution of his duty, “unlawfully” assaulting two police officers, and behaving in a disorderly manner in a police station.

Johanness Manggurra
Supplied to SBS News

NAAJA’s Patrick Coleridge, who is currently assisting Mr Manggurra in his appeal said: “Our client went to the Numbulwar police station with his partner to pay some fines and when he arrived, he was asked to accompany two police officers to an interview room,” Mr Coleridge told SBS News. 

“Once within the interview room the door was locked, and he was informed that he was to be arrested for the breach of his parole.

In a 12-minute video of the incident, filmed via police bodycam and released to SBS News by the Northern Territory courts, one police officer can be heard explaining the situation.

"I know it's confusing but when you went to court the judge didn't deal with it properly and they let you go when you should have stayed in prison," the police officer says.

"So they kept you in for the weekend but the judge was meant to give a warrant for the rest of your sentence." 

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Mr Coleridge said: “Our client and the police disagree with what happened next, but the common ground is that during the arrest, a taser was used at least once and he was also sprayed with capsicum spray.”

“Our client maintains he is not guilty of the charges laid against him because the use of the taser was unlawful.”

In the footage, Mr Manggurra is also heard saying “don’t do that, my heart… you’ll f***ing kill me” when the taser is pointed at him.

He is heard repeatedly saying “my heart” while the two police officers ask him to “put his hands behind his back”. 

The pepper spray is used first when Mr Manggurra does not comply with instructions to put his hands behind his back and after he begins screaming and hitting himself. Mr Manggurra is then seen leaping onto a table. 

Johanness Manggurra
Supplied to SBS News

The officers proceed to ask Mr Manggurra to “get down on the ground” and put his “hands behind his back” again, before using the taser on him for the first time. 

The NT local court heard that when trying to handcuff Mr Manggurra, both police officers were bitten, one on the hand and the other on the wrist. 

In the footage, one police officer is heard saying “don’t you bite me, don’t you f***ing do that to me, put your f***ing hand there and behave”. 

The police officer is also heard saying “I’m going to f***ing thump you, if you f***ing bite me, I’m going to f***ing thump you, what the f*** was that all for?”

Johanness Manggurra
Supplied to SBS News

Mr Manggurra is then seen stripped of his shorts and put into a cell at the back of the station, where he is seen yelling in an Indigenous language, and the officers yell out "he's being arrested".

Mr Manggurra was convicted and sentenced to three months in prison for resisting a member of the police force, four months for the assault of one police officer, six months for the assault of the other police officer and two weeks for behaving in a disorderly manner at the police station. 

The charges were backdated to 25 September 2019 and Mr Manggurra is not currently in prison.  

“I find you guilty of biting both police when you tried to resist them and mucking up when you were placed in a cell,” said chief judge Elizabeth Morris when handing down her judgement in March.

“I accept that you were upset and confused but you needed to follow their direction and not struggle against them and assault them.”

Johanness Manggurra
Supplied to SBS News

Ms Morris said the incident would serve as a “message” that “you can’t assault police”.

“It is hard for police in remote communities when there are only two people there and they can’t just call another policeman to help them,” she told the court. “Hopefully this will be the end of your trouble.”

In 2018, the Northern Territory Police Force removed guidelines from public view governing how and when officers use their weapons.

 

Use of Force guidelines, which took effect in 2012, were previously available online and via the NT Supreme Court Library but are no longer publicly available.

Mr Coleridge claims “police made their own guidelines”. 

“Ordinarily, tasers should not be used unless there is an imminent risk of serious harm either to the person being tasered or the police and we say there was no such risk,” he said.

Johanness Manggurra
Supplied to SBS News

During the court proceedings in the local court in March, Mr Manggurra was given an interpreter.

NAAJA will argue during the appeal that Mr Manggurra should have been allowed to speak to a lawyer in the first instance and also given the option of an interpreter at the time of the incident. 

“If the police had offered him an interpreter and if the police had offered him or allowed him an opportunity to speak with a lawyer it’s entirely possible that none of what occurred subsequently would have occurred,” Mr Coleridge said. 

A Northern Territory Police spokesman told SBS News: “The local court made a determination on this matter in March. As this decision is now subject to an appeal, NT Police won’t be commenting”. 

The matter will return to the Northern Territory Supreme Court on 21 July.

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