Many Australians are cheering today, with the news that honest cop Rick Flori has won his appeal in Brisbane Supreme Court.
It's one of many battles the former Queensland police officer has fought, as he took and maintained a stance against brutality and other forms of misconduct in the Queensland Police Force (QPS).
Rick Flori's six year battle
Mr Flori's fight against both the wrongdoing his colleagues and his employer's inertia began shortly after the night a young man, Noa Begic, was arrested for public nuisance and obstruction in Surfers Paradise.
After his arrest, Mr Begic was taken to basement car park of Surfers Paradise police station, where CCTV footage captured the events which unfolded. The twenty-two year old was badly beaten by police officers as lay on a concrete floor handcuffed and disoriented. He was then put in the back of a police wagon and bashed again. Footage from later the same evening shows an officer washing Mr Begic's blood away.
This footage was leaked to a Queensland newspaper just days later. Mr Flori was subsequently suspended from the QPS (he later resigned in 2017), and charged with misconduct in a public office – an offence which carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison.
What followed was several court cases between Mr Flori and the QPS, as well as a media frenzy over a long and drawn out saga that has included accusations of nepotisim, vendettas, corruption and cover-ups within the service, including at the highest levels.
Mr Flori was acquitted by a jury of misconduct last year. But that is only one of several legal battles he has had to endure in order to clear his name – battles which highlight corruption and cover-ups within the QPS.
In one legal battle last year, Mr Flori commenced legal proceedings against the QPS for reprisals against him after he sent a letter to the then Crime and Misconduct Commission which alleged, that in late 2009, a female police officer performed a sexual act on a male colleague in a police car at a Red Rooster car park.
Mr Flori argued he should have been protected under the Whistleblowers Protection Act, which was in force at the time, and provides that a public officer can make a public interest disclosure about someone else's conduct if it is "official misconduct". However, Justice Helen Bowskill ruled that Mr Flori was not covered by whistleblower protection, so his case could not proceed.
Mr Flori appealed the decision to Brisbane Supreme Court and his appeal was upheld yesterday.
The former officer's official response, which is a statement on his Facebook page says:
"Until today there was no actual protection given to whistleblowers. As a result of the judgement handed down this morning by the court of appeal, honest public servants can feel safe knowing that they will be given protections when revealing corruption. This essentially provides warm comfort to not only the public servants making the disclosure, but the community they serve."
Not the end of the road
Mr Flori has another fight to come, however; a civil case against the QPS for "whistleblower reprisal" which seeks $1 million in damages for loss of reputation and loss of wages, plus $300,000 for lost superannuation.
The case is currently before the courts, but as the QPS has demonstrated, it has deep pockets and a great deal of tenacity when faced with someone who it feels has departed from the ranks.
The QPS is not afraid to lawyer up, despite what officers have done
In another case, the QPS is now appealing a judgement against compensation it has been ordered to pay against *Julie who won a landmark breach of privacy case against the police in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) earlier this year.
Her details were leaked by a police officer Neil Punchard, to her former abusive partner. He has since been found guilty of computer hacking offences, and in a separate case is also appealing his sentence to in order to maintain his job.
There are calls loud and clear for the newly-appointed Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carrol to intervene and stop the QPS appeal. Because, if we, as a community, are serious about holding police officers to account, then it's important to acknowledge victims of misconduct, to compensate them when necessary, and to ensure that those officers who are proven to be at fault are punished appropriately.
So far, Ms Carrol has remained tight-lipped and 'distant' from the issue.
In the meantime, the QPS still suffers from a poor community reputation as an organisation with an culture of bullying, harassment, misconduct and police going to great lengths to 'protect their own'. Recent high-profile cases, like those of Rick Flori, Renae Eaves, and domestic violence victim Julie* have provided some evidence of this.
A recent staff survey also showed that a quarter of officers surveyed had witnessed bullying and that 18 percent were exposed to sexual harassment. Only one-third reported the incidents to management out of fear.
Certainly, the way that the QPS treated whistleblower Rick Flori when he spoke up about injustice and unfairness, highlights just how difficult it can be for the good cops to choose to speak out.
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