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Ballarat police again accused of misconduct, heavy-handedness with assault victim

ABC News logo ABC News 23/10/2016 Danny Tran

Injuries allegedly sustained during police rough-handedness. © Danny Tran/ABC News Injuries allegedly sustained during police rough-handedness. Fresh allegations of heavy-handedness and misconduct have been levelled at Victoria Police's troubled Ballarat branch.

Ballarat police officers have been accused of dragging the victim of a violent assault along the ground, before charging her with assaulting her alleged attacker.

On May 17, Ballarat police were called to an assault in the city's north where they arrested a 43-year-old woman.

The woman, who only wants to be known as Sofia, had been the victim of a brutal assault with a tyre iron.

"I just thought I was gonna die," she said.

"I was really dizzy and I was on the grass and I just said to myself, I need to stand up and defend myself."

Sofia, who is from South America, said she became panicked and erratic when she saw her alleged attacker, a neighbour, speaking with police.

Her lawyer, Neil Longmore, questioned how officers then reacted.

"The police seemed to think that was reason to then handcuff her and throw her on the ground and start dragging her around and drag her to the ambulance," he said.

Sofia said: "I just want to be helped. Protected."

"I was treated like an animal," she said.

Injuries allegedly sustained from police rough-handedness. © Danny Tran/ABC News Injuries allegedly sustained from police rough-handedness. Victim 'did not understand her rights'

The allegations come at a politically sensitive time for Victoria Police, which is under intense scrutiny after graphic footage emerged of officers at the Ballarat station stomping and kicking an off-duty detective in the cells.

Sofia was taken to hospital where she received 14 stitches on the back of her head, and the side of her face.

She went home but hours later was woken up by police who arrested her.

"I said 'why am I being arrested if I'm the victim?'. He says, 'it happened, the same thing with your neighbour, don't worry'," Sofia said.

Mr Longmore said bias against his client was a common thread throughout the interview.

"She clearly thinks that she's giving them information because they're investigating what's happening to her, not that she's going to be charged," he said.

"She should've been not just read her rights, she should've understood her rights and I think you can see there's a pretty clear line between when somebody's just being read them and doesn't understand them.

"If you do understand your rights in that situation, you certainly shouldn't be giving the police information because they're just about to use that against you to charge you."

Sofia said she thought she was helping with the investigation.

"Just at the end of the interview I understood that they [were] intending since the beginning [to] charge me, whatever I was going to say," she said.

"[The interviewing officer] was repeatedly saying ... 'so you attacked him? Did you attack him?' "And I was trying to say that I was fighting for my life."

Sofia was charged with recklessly causing injury and assault with a weapon, which referred to the mop she used to defend herself, and was served with an intervention order.

Ballarat scandal 'due to lack of leadership'

The charges were ultimately withdrawn when she appeared at the Ballarat Magistrates Court.

Ballarat police station PHOTO: Police in Ballarat have previously been investigated by IBAC. (ABC News) "After discussions with the prosecutor, the police agreed to withdraw all charges," a letter from Victoria Legal Aid said.

"As a result you have been found not guilty of the charges, and your case is now finished."

Victoria Police has been in damage control since footage was aired of an off-duty officer, Yvonne Berry, being stomped on and kicked in the Ballarat cells.

Charges against Ms Berry were dropped, with senior police admitting the scandal was partly due to a lack of leadership.

Police are now considering whether a police officer accused of assaulting Ms Berry can be charged.

'I almost died and they did nothing to help me'

Sofia said she had no faith in Victoria Police's complaints process and instead made a complaint to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC), alleging officers failed to investigate her case properly.

Her lawyer, Mr Longmore said: "What she really would like is an apology and a proper investigation of what occurred and some better training for police, or younger ones who seem to fall into this conduct."

"There's something not quite right about the police training that allows them to just roll through those rights ... go ahead with their interview ... and use it against a person and the person hasn't understood what's going on."

Sofia said she wanted justice.

"I don't think they are prepared, prepared to treat people to protect people. I almost died and they did nothing to help me," she said. Victoria Police said the investigation was ongoing and it would be inappropriate to comment.


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