Police officer charged with unlawful assault faces court

Bryce Eishold

A police officer charged with unlawfully assaulting a man in custody in September 2017 will return to court in March following a three-day hearing at the Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court.

Senior Constable Dallas Ross Howell was charged in February last year following an investigation by the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission in relation to an incident where he allegedly unlawfully assaulted a person in custody.

At the time of the incident, Senior Constable Howell, a military veteran, was stationed at the Moe Police Station and was working nightshift as the watch house keeper.

The court heard among other duties he was responsible for the welfare of people in custody.

CCTV footage played in court this week showed Senior Constable Howell enter the cell at the Moe Police Station about 11.30pm on September 8 to conduct a welfare check on the man in custody.

The vision showed the prisoner “kick out” at Senior Constable Howell, before he was pulled off the chair by the senior constable, landing on his back with his legs in the air.

The footage showed Senior Constable Howell strike the man multiple times to the head and upper body on two separate occasions.

The incident from when police entered the cell to when they left lasted about 50 seconds.

Defence barrister Nadia Kaddeche argued Senior Constable Howell was attempting to restrain the man in custody after he had been verbally abusive and erratic, and had spat on the police officer of nine years during the altercation.

The court heard the man in custody, Daniel Hornsby, was arrested earlier that night in relation to a family violence incident with his partner, and had used offensive language towards police in the lead up to the alleged assault in the cell.

Hornsby, 43, told the court he had injected a “point” of ice on the morning of his arrest, had smoked a gram of cannabis with his partner and had a few glasses of scotch on the afternoon of September 8.

While giving evidence, Hornsby said he was “not unfamiliar with the cells” at Moe Police Station given his criminal history and said he had been a “smart-arse and lippy” prior to the alleged altercation with Senior Constable Howell.

The court heard Hornsby did not seek medical treatment following the incident after his release on September 9, nor did he sustain any injuries during the alleged assault.

Counsel for IBAC Elizabeth Tueno was critical of Senior Constable Howell’s tactics during the incident, claiming his actions were unnecessary.

But defence barrister Nadia Kaddeche argued the senior constable received limited support from his colleagues during the incident – in particular his sergeant, and described his “defensive strikes” as a way to restrain Hornsby.

In evidence, the court heard Senior Constable Howell later told a sergeant he “snapped” and that he “let [Hornsby] get to me, I never do this sort of thing.”.

The prosecution was also critical of Senior Constable Howell who had his firearm in his holster when he entered the cell, an action which breached police policy, Ms Tueno said.

The court heard Senior Constable Howell mistakenly wore his firearm into the cell on the night of the alleged assault and was “very apologetic” after realising what he had done so.

Throughout the hearing, Ms Kaddeche was also critical of the reporting of the incident to Victoria Police’s internal investigative arm, Professional Standards Command, after it was not notified until more than 24 hours after the incident.

The court also heard Senior Constable Howell told a colleague in an email he would not be charging Hornsby with assaulting a police officer, because Hornsby had “received his justice”.

Eight witnesses gave evidence during the three-day hearing; including a senior sergeant, two sergeants, including one female officer who was in charge of the Moe station at the time of the incident, and a principal investigator from IBAC.

A constable and senior constable who witnessed the alleged assault also gave evidence on the first day of the hearing.

Senior Constable Howell, who sat reserved during the matter, was supported in court by about half a dozen people, including Moe Police Station Senior Sergeant Jan McNally.

On Wednesday afternoon, his defence called upon three senior Latrobe Valley police officers to give character references for Senior Constable Howell, including two police officers whom had known him since he was in school.

Moe Senior Sergeant Peter Fusinato, who has known Senior Constable Howell since 2010, said the accused was “respected by his peers” and “dedicated to his duties” and had never received a negative comment about his conduct in prior to the incident.

Another sergeant, Darren Eldridge, who has known Senior Constable Howell since he was “six or seven” said the accused had “always been cool, calm and collected” and treated “everyone with respect”.

A second sergeant, Brent Muir, from the Morwell Divisional Tasking Unit, described the accused as a “good talker” and a person who avoided confrontation because he “would rather resolve [an issue] through his talking skills”.

The matter returns to court on March 7.