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Offensive Against Drug Peddling Goes Overboard, Australian Woman Complains of Abuse

by Medindia Content Team on  December 8, 2007 at 1:11 PM Drug News   - G J E 4
Offensive Against Drug Peddling Goes Overboard, Australian Woman Complains of Abuse
Apparently there is no stopping the overenthusiastic Australian police officers out to scotch the drug menace.
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They handcuffed a 64-year-old pensioner, threw her to the ground and then searched inside her bra and underpants on a busy suburban road in the mistaken belief she was a drug dealer.

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The ordeal left an ailing Leentje McDonald, of Maroubra, in hospital and severely traumatised. But she did not receive an apology from police. Rather, she has been charged with assaulting an officer.

Maroubra is a beachside suburb in south-eastern Sydney, in the state of New South Wales.

While it is unusual for a pensioner to be mistaken for a 40-year-old drug dealer, as was the case here, civil libertarians say such aggressive searches, and the charging of people for assault or resisting arrest if no drugs are found, are a common and disturbing feature of modern policing.

In her case, Ms McDonald resisted the intrusive search because longstanding nerve damage in her right shoulder meant she was in excruciating pain when the two police officers handcuffed her during the full body search on Maroubra Road.

"I started screaming, screaming so loud because it was extremely painful. It was so painful I could feel it in my spine. I had a blackout. I thought I was going to die from a heart attack," Ms McDonald told the Herald at her small Department of Housing flat, where she lives alone.

October 18 had began like any other pension day. Ms McDonald went to the shops to buy some ingredients for a "nice dinner" and stepped into the Maroubra Junction Hotel to play the pokies for a few minutes while she waited for her bus.

As she left the hotel, two plainclothes police officers, a man and a woman, approached.

"They said, 'Are you dealing drugs.' I said, 'No, never in my life. I don't even like smoking,' " she said. Ms McDonald says the two officers said they were looking for an Asian woman in her 40s.

"I said, 'You must have a mistaken identity. I have never done this in my life. I'm 64, a grandmother of six, please.' I said, 'You can't search me like this on a busy road. I beg your pardon, no.' "

The police grabbed her bag, finding only her wallet, some bills and two cans of coconut cream. But they were not satisfied. While Maroubra police station was directly across the road, about 20 metres away, the officers moved to handcuff and search her on the street.

"I said, 'Please don't do this, I have a frozen shoulder,' " Ms McDonald said.

In terrible pain, she lashed out, scratching one of the officers. They finished handcuffing her and threw her to the ground.

"They did a full body search. They put their hands inside my bra, inside my pants. I said, 'My God. Why is this happening to me?' Then the officer, she says to me, 'Stand up.' But I couldn't stand up. I was crying. Then they said, 'Put your shoes on.' My handbag was everywhere, my glasses, my coconut cream.

"They had no drugs, no nothing. But they arrested me and put me in the truck. They take me to Maroubra police station. That's just across the road!"

The commotion drew a large crowd of onlookers, intensifying Ms McDonald's humiliation. One witness, Josephine Chen, who worked at a nearby photo studio, said: "Everybody stopped to look.

"She kept screaming 'My shoulder, my shoulder' but the police kept ignoring it. She was struggling to free her arm. She wasn't trying to hit anyone."

In the past 10 years, NSW police have been granted increased powers to search people, culminating in the decision last month of the Premier, Morris Iemma, to extend indefinitely the powers given to police to deal with the aftermath of the Cronulla riots.

These powers mean police need only have a "suspicion" of illegality before they undertake an intrusive body search in an authorised area.

Cameron Murphy, of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said: "We get hundreds of complaints about this, more than any other issue, particularly when it involves police sniffer dogs at train stations or outside nightclubs.

"If you get upset about what is often a degrading and humiliating experience and they don't find drugs, the police charge you. Some people get what we call the trifecta: disobeying a lawful direction, resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer."

A police spokesman from Eastern Beaches command, Chief Inspector David McBeath, would not comment before Ms McDonald's scheduled appearance at Waverley Local Court on December 19.

However, he said police would take into account any comments from the magistrate before determining if any action would be taken against the officers.

"They did a full body search. They put their hands inside my bra, inside my pants. I said, 'My God. Why is this happening to me?' Then the officer, she says to me, 'Stand up.' But I couldn't stand up. I was crying. Then they said, 'Put your shoes on.' My handbag was everywhere, my glasses, my coconut cream.

"They had no drugs, no nothing. But they arrested me and put me in the truck. They take me to Maroubra police station. That's just across the road!"

The commotion drew a large crowd of onlookers, intensifying Ms McDonald's humiliation. One witness, Josephine Chen, who worked at a nearby photo studio, said: "Everybody stopped to look.

"She kept screaming 'My shoulder, my shoulder' but the police kept ignoring it. She was struggling to free her arm. She wasn't trying to hit anyone."

In the past 10 years, NSW police have been granted increased powers to search people, culminating in the decision last month of the Premier, Morris Iemma, to extend indefinitely the powers given to police to deal with the aftermath of the Cronulla riots.

These powers mean police need only have a "suspicion" of illegality before they undertake an intrusive body search in an authorised area.

Cameron Murphy, of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said: "We get hundreds of complaints about this, more than any other issue, particularly when it involves police sniffer dogs at train stations or outside nightclubs.

"If you get upset about what is often a degrading and humiliating experience and they don't find drugs, the police charge you. Some people get what we call the trifecta: disobeying a lawful direction, resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer."

A police spokesman from Eastern Beaches command, Chief Inspector David McBeath, would not comment before Ms McDonald's scheduled appearance at Waverley Local Court on December 19.

However, he said police would take into account any comments from the magistrate before determining if any action would be taken against the officers.

Source: Medindia
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