Australia Inflation nightclub shooting victim sues police for defamation

21:08  11 july  2018
21:08  11 july  2018 Source:   theage.com.au

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The exterior of the Inflation nightclub in Melbourne after Dale Ewins and Zita Sukys were shot by heavily armed police . Photograph: James Ross/AAP. Two costume-clad swingers shot during a Melbourne nightclub raid are suing Victoria police for damages while the venue has flagged

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The Inflation nightclub in King Street.© Chris Hopkins The Inflation nightclub in King Street.

Victoria Police is being sued for defamation by a man recently cleared of wrongdoing over an incident in which he was shot by heavily armed officers at a swingers party in a Melbourne nightclub.

Dale Ewins and his partner, Zita Sukys, had been engaged in a sex act on a couch during a “Saints and Sinners” party at Inflation nightclub in the CBD when the couple were shot by members of the Critical Incident Response Unit on July 8, 2017.

Competing claims about what happened in the seven seconds between when officers confronted the couple and opened fire have been aired as part of a criminal investigation, personal injury lawsuit and, now, in a defamation case.

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Police had justified the incident by claiming Mr Ewins threatened officers with a replica pistol they believed at the time to be a genuine firearm.

But police announced last week they would not press criminal charges against Mr Ewins, following a 12-month investigation.

Mr Ewins, who was dressed as Batman villain The Joker, has consistently denied pointing the toy gun at officers. CCTV footage of the incident obtained by The Age is inconclusive.

In the wake of Victoria Police's decision to drop the criminal case, Mr Ewins has filed a defamation lawsuit over comments made about his conduct by senior police during a press conference held in the hours after the shooting.

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Mr Ewins alleges Superintendent Lisa Hardeman unfairly and incorrectly depicted him as behaving in an “aggressive, threatening, dangerous and unco-operative manner”.

Video and transcripts from the press conference were published on TV, radio, online and in newspapers across the country.

“Police called on the male [Mr Ewins]. The male then took the firearm from his pants and aimed it at police. Police called on the male to drop the firearm. As a response, police then fired a number of shots,” Superintendent Hardeman told the media.

“The firearm was levelled at police and police asked the man to drop it and he didn’t.”

Mr Ewins' lawyer, Kim Price from Arnold Thomas & Becker, called the description a “complete distortion”.

“The statements made by Superintendent Hardeman, in order to justify the police's use of lethal force, portrayed Dale not only as a recalcitrant armed criminal, but also as unco-operative and foolish,” Mr Price told The Age.

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“The statements have been posted widely on the internet and published extensively across Victoria. The damage caused to Dale's reputation is irreparable.”

Victoria Police declined to comment on the matter because it was now subject to legal proceedings in the Supreme Court.

The police are also fighting a potential multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit from Mr Ewins and Ms Sukys over the shooting, which the couple say has left them with serious long-term mental and physical injuries.

The Age has previously revealed serious problems with the independence and thoroughness of the investigation into the incident, known as Operation Syllable.

Detectives from the armed crime squad, under the oversight of Professional Standards Command and the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission, failed to contact two staff members at the club who witnessed the shooting, as well as conduct follow-up interviews with Mr Ewins or Ms Sukys.

Police protocol was also apparently breached when tactical officers involved in the shooting were not separated in the wake of the incident but allowed to interact with each other and witnesses for more than hour.

The independence of Operation Syllable has also come under question after government solicitors referred to police actions as “lawful self-defence” in legal documents before the investigation was completed.

Official police accounts of the shooting have also changed over time. Superintendent Hardeman originally told the media Mr Ewins pulled the gun from his pants before pointing it at officers. That was later changed in legal documents to a claim that Mr Ewins had drawn the gun from underneath a couch cushion.

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