FOI Reveals Cost of 2013 Policing of Mardi Gras Festival

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

As the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras begins this week, University of Newcastle criminologist, Dr Justin Ellis, reflects on the cost of the controversial policing of the 2013 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival.

Mardi Gras parade - crowd of people dressed in colourful clothes and wigs

Dr Ellis is a researcher who looks at how social media, and bystander video in particular, exposes the ways that people might be criminalised and the role it plays in mitigating or aggravating that process.

Dr Ellis has conducted in-depth research into the police excessive force used against Sydney teenager Jamie Jackson at the 2013 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade and related cases. The incident was captured on video (trigger warning – violent content) and was one of the first viral videos of police excessive force in Australia directly uploaded to YouTube.

“It had close to 2 million views weeks after the incident and crossed over into mainstream media reportage. It happened at a time when sharing on social media platforms had reached a critical mass which facilitated the video’s viral reach. It acted as an extremely effective public service announcement and caught the police completely off guard,” Ellis said.

It was widely reported that police withdrew the charges against Jackson – offensive language, resist arrest and assault police; and the court ruled that the police did use excessive force in Jackson’s arrest, and that Jackson was awarded $39,000 in costs.

Ellis says what the public doesn’t know is what happened to the officer that used excessive force in the 2013 Mardi Gras case.

“Internal police investigations do not provide the public, and most importantly victims, with enough transparency over the outcomes of such investigations. Civil actions the police settle can provide redress to victims, but once again, the public is none the wiser about the outcomes of these cases.”

Via a Freedom of Information request Dr Ellis can reveal the cost of the civil cases the police settled as a result of the policing of the 2013 Mardi Gras.

He discovered that there was a total of four claims arising from the policing of the 2013 Mardi Gras Festival, for which a total of $283,880.75 damages were paid. The amount paid by the State of New South Wales for the legal cost of defending these claims was $385,903.90, so overall, a total cost of $669,784.65 to the state of NSW to settle those four claims.

“We can’t effectively evaluate police assertions of reasonable and efficient expenditure of public resources in these cases because we can’t easily access that information.”

He reminds the public that it is lawful for people to film police in public places.

“The public don’t necessarily know that, and unlawful police directions to stop civilian filming of police operations captured in the Jamie Jackson video imply that some police were ignorant of the lawful right of civilians to film police operations.”

“The incident at the 2013 Mardi Gras parade also showed that amateur video of police excessive force can provide the police with a frank assessment of the acceptable limits to the public of police use of force.”

Related media: The Guardian - Police took three years to dismiss officer who slammed teen to ground at 2013 Sydney Mardi Gras

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