A police officer found guilty of unlawfully assaulting a person in custody in September 2017 has been convicted and placed on a 12-month good behaviour bond.
Magistrate Ann Collins said the assault was not at the “lower end of the scale” and the conviction would be a deterrent because “the public rely on police to do their job professionally”.
CCTV footage played in court last month showed Dallas Ross Howell, a senior constable, 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, which lasts less than a minute, showed the prisoner “kick out” at 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 Howell, 38, strike the man multiple times to the head and upper body on two separate occasions.
Prior to sentencing, defence barrister Nadia Kaddeche argued against a conviction and claimed it would jeopardise his future as a police officer.
“Even without a conviction … he will face clearly some disciplinary action,” she told the court.
Ms Kaddeche said the incident “has and will probably continue to change Mr Howell’s life”.
Howell, a former military veteran, was supported in court by his parents, his wife of four years Fiona and three senior Latrobe Valley police officers, including Superintendent Rob Wallace, acting Inspector Peter Fusinato and Senior Sergeant Jan McNally.
“This demonstrates the significant support he … has always had,” Ms Kaddeche said.
The court heard Howell had a decorated career in the military between 1999 and 2007. He joined the armed forces aged 18 after completing high school.
During his stint with the army, Howell completed an apprenticeship in carpentry and worked in places including the Solomon Islands, East Timor and five months in Iraq as part of a support team.
Upon his resignation – to spend more time with his family, including two children he shared in a previous marriage – Howell received a high commendation for his service, the court heard.
Ms Kaddeche said Howell would have a “battle in respect of employment” and argued a conviction would have a profound impact on his economic and social wellbeing.
“In terms of a man who has served his country, served impeccably [Howell] … ought to be given credit for that as opposed for a 50-second in totality incident,” Ms Kaddeche said.
In the lead up to the incident, the court heard Howell had been subject to a number of personal family matters, however, because of his good work ethic and the culture within Victoria Police, he continued “pressing on”.
However, counsel for IBAC Amber Harris told the court a conviction was necessary given Howell was in “a position of trust” at the time of incident took place.
In an earlier hearing, the court heard the man assaulted by Howell in custody – Daniel Hornsby – was arrested earlier in the night in relation to a family violence incident and was affected by drugs and alcohol while in the second cell at the Moe Police Station.
While giving evidence last month , Hornsby, 43, 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 altercation with Senior Constable Howell.
In sentencing, Magistrate Ann Collings said because Howell had been found guilty of unlawful assault and had not previously entered a guilty plea, she could not take his remorse into account.
“The public rely on police to do their job professionally,” Ms Collings said.
“I accept that you are someone who has served our community and our country in an exemplary manner. [However] I don’t see this offending as falling at the lower end of the scale.”
Ms Collins said she accepted the person in custody, Mr Hornsby, had been suffering mental health issues and substance abuse, and had been a “nuisance” and caused police “immense frustration” in the lead up to the incident.
“It highlights the difficult work police do,” Ms Collins said.
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 assault.
Victoria Police has been contacted for comment.