A Frankston police station custody officer has been fined $20,000 for leaking footage of vulnerable people in the cells, including one who was self-harming, to his friends and laughing about it.
Dale Cowan, 30, pleaded guilty in the Frankston Magistrates Court on Tuesday to releasing police information without a reasonable excuse after he filmed a copy of the CCTV vision from the cells on his phone and, on three occasions, sent the footage out.
His barrister, Rahmin de Kretser, said it was apparent from the now notorious case where Victoria Police officers leaked photographs of former North Melbourne coach Dani Laidley in custody, that the behaviour was a cultural issue within the force.
“It appears that conduct of this type was normalised in the workplace, and he instructs he’d seen more senior members of Victoria Police distribute similar type images,” Mr de Kretser said.
Prosecutor Toni Stokes said that in 2019, Cowan sent footage to his fiance of a man in the cells lying naked and trying to strangle himself with overalls.
“WTF [what the f—] was he doing?” his fiance texted.
“Trying to strangle himself,” Cowan replied.
Cowan texted that the man was given the overalls because he “nuded-up”.
“Hahaha wow. Stay naked then bitch,” his fiance replied, before writing: “I love you and all your authority looking hot.”
He also sent footage to other police of another arrested man who had jumped from the sink in the cells with the words: “How’s old mate bouncing.”
“Destroyed his face on the ground lol,” Cowan wrote to his police friend.
“Wow how is he not dead hahaha,” the friend said.
Cowan also sent footage of himself and his colleagues using pepper spray on another man to another custody officer.
Mr de Kretser said his client resigned from his position as an unsworn member of Victoria Police in February and his hopes of becoming a police officer had been dashed.
“The forwarding of these was a way of him sharing and dealing with some of the stressful experiences of the job, however he now recognises that what he did was in complete breach of people’s privacy, and he’s sorry for what he’s done,” Mr de Kretser said.
Ms Stokes said the acts were abhorrent from someone in a position of power, and it was open to Magistrate Richard Pithouse to record a conviction.
“These three individuals were in particularly vulnerable positions,” she said.
Mr Pithouse said unlike the Laidley case, the footage had not been publicly disseminated through the media so the individuals Cowan had filmed had not suffered damage.
He issued a $20,000 fine without a conviction recorded, noting Cowan’s unblemished record and his plea of guilty.
Mr Pithouse also questioned why the other police members involved in receiving and commenting on the footage weren’t charged.
“The police officers said they didn’t recall receiving the messages,” Ms Stokes said.
“I’m not aware of them having being dealt with, it may be something that’s still pending.”
Crisis support is available from Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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