'Shocking' treatment of Indigenous teen at watch house

An Indigenous teen who was reportedly forcefully detained by police in a Brisbane watch house is the tip of the iceberg of mistreatment, advocates say.

A video showed the 17-year-old boy being struck with a baton and restrained by three police officers after spending days at a watch house in 2023.

"It is shocking," Youth Advocacy CEO Katherine Hayes said of the video published by the ABC on Wednesday.

"I am filled with dismay at the conduct of these officers."

Police restraining an Indigenous teen
An Ethical Standards Command investigation found the officers' actions "lawful and reasonable".

Queensland Police said the incident at Richlands police watch house, southwest of Brisbane, was investigated by the Ethical Standards Command following a complaint.

The investigation found the officer's actions were "lawful and reasonable" and allowed all three officers to remain on the job.

However, advocates said there was no justification for the officer's behaviour as the teen appeared to be compliant.

"There was no reason for that level of physical abuse," Ms Hayes said.

She called for the investigation to be reopened and the officers disciplined.

Police Minister Mark Ryan defended the force, saying officers took caring for children in custody seriously.

"I expect the highest standards from police officers and, if allegations are made, that all allegations are thoroughly investigated in accordance with law," he said in a statement.

Ms Hayes said the teen boy was "up and down" following the incident and was being supported by a Youth Advocacy Centre social worker.

His treatment in custody had decreased his engagement with support services and his trust in police, she said.

"He needs a lot of support to break the cycle he is in," Ms Hayes said.

Youth Advocacy CEO Katherine Hayes
"I am filled with dismay at the conduct of these officers," Youth Advocacy CEO Katherine Hayes says.

Ms Hayes said this was not the first incident of mistreatment she had heard of.

Numerous reports have been made to the centre regarding the "degrading treatment" of children in police watch houses.

Ms Hayes said kids had food withheld, family visits cancelled, blankets removed and were forced to sleep on metal benches for days at a time if they acted up.

Justice Reform Initiative director Mindy Sotiri fears the violence in watch houses will escalate due to harsh conditions with overcrowding and isolation leading to misbehaviour.

"We anticipate the death of a child in a watch house if the current conditions continue," she said.

Both advocacy groups want children removed from adult watch houses and placed in age-appropriate facilities.

Youth crime and detention is a key issue ahead of the Queensland election on October 26, with the Liberal-National Party expected to end Labor's 10-year stronghold.

Queensland has the highest number of detained kids in the country, according to the government-commissioned Child Death Review report released in March.

Ms Hayes said both parties were looking for a political solution to the youth crime problem - such as removing detention as a last resort - and demonising children in the process.

"It's too little too late," she said.

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