Peter O’Keefe holds his walking stick close as he remembers the day he was arrested by Queensland Police.
Sitting on his porch in the remote Aboriginal community of Doomadgee in the far west of Queensland, flanked by his partner and grandchildren, the memory still hits the 65-year-old hard.
“My mind went straight to that guy [George Floyd] in America, “he said.
“So I just let them do what they wanted.”
WARNING: SOME READERS MAY FIND THE FOLLOWING ACCOUNTS AND VIDEOS
It was a windy August morning in 2020.
Police were called to a domestic riot in the community, and Peter, a traditional Waanyi owner, was wanted for questioning.
The well-known elder of the small, predominantly indigenous community had no criminal record or previous charges.
Standing barefoot on the burning bitumen of a town that regularly reaches 40 degrees, the elder says he agreed to go down to the police station.
But Peter told the officer he wanted his straps off the car first. The officer intervened and forced the car door to close.
Moments later, he was the oldest on earth. The officer had pushed his knee into Peter’s back while he was strapped in, with his face pressed against the bitumen.
Peter had previously undergone shoulder reconstruction and open heart surgery and was six years from the average life expectancy of an Aboriginal man.
A family member tried to rock his head off the road.
Peter’s arrest was captured from several angles, in footage taken by the community, as well as the police bodycam vision obtained by ABC.
“Well, from that day until today, I can not even walk on my lap where he knelt me,” Mr O’Keefe said.
Peter was charged with obstructing and assaulting police. He was not charged with other offenses.
But in September, those charges were dropped in Doomadgee Magistrates Court.
The judge considered the male officer’s use of force “illegal” and described the video footage as “disturbing”.
Officer given ‘management guidance’
Queensland Police have accepted the decision that the actions in Mr O’Keefe’s case were illegal and conducted their own investigation into the case.
“The officer was given what we call managerial guidance,” Queensland Police Service Assistant Commissioner Mark Wheeler told ABC.
“The officer was advised on how better to use force next time.”
Sir. Wheeler said cultural training was regularly assessed.
“Some of this is about learning on the job, and unfortunately you can not train the police for every single event that will occur,” said Mr. Wheeler.
Scott Sier, Mr O’Keefe’s lawyer, has taken issue with the fact that the Queensland Police Powers Act does not provide a clear definition of what constitutes reasonable power.
“As it is, the law is simply not prescriptive enough,” Mr Sier said.
“[It] has left the door open to say what reasonable force is.
“And it’s a door that absolutely must be closed.”
Sir. Sier has drafted what he has termed “Peter’s Law,” amendments to the law that will ensure that factors such as a person’s cultural background and health are legally considered before engaging in a violent arrest.
“We could look at adding age, culture, race – it could be a number of factors that could persuade a police officer not to act this way or that,” Mr Sier said.
His recommendation also includes major changes in police training, specifically in relation to indigenous communities and understanding of complex social history.
‘This is nothing new’
Assistant Commissioner Wheeler said legislative changes were a matter for the Queensland government and outside his mandate.
But he maintained that the current officer training was culturally adequate.
“There are a number of workouts, and it’s actually specific to the community you go to,” he said.
“They explain the history, the culture, the challenges, the families and some of the unique complexities that arise around these issues,” said Mr. Wheeler.
Priscilla Atkins, co-chair of Aboriginal’s legal services network NATSILS, described the footage as “disgusting”.
“But it’s nothing new, it’s the most disappointing,” she said.
“This happens on a regular basis, across Australia.”
Since the Royal Commission in 1991, there have been more than 470 Aboriginal deaths in custody.
The Commission found that Aborigines were apprehended and placed in police cells with more than 20 times the number of non-Aborigines.
Aborigines currently make up 30 percent of the prisoners.
“Ultimately, no state or territory has been held accountable for it,” Ms. Atkins said.
“No one can raise their hand and say, ‘Well, that’s the plan, we have to abide by those recommendations.'”
For Peter O’Keefe, systemic change cannot come fast enough.
“If they want to work with society, they want to work together,” he said.
“Not those over there, and we’re over this page, you know you need to be treated like one.”
Part 2, ABC News Tomorrow: Brendon and the Police in Lake Cargelligo