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Police officer who assaulted Aboriginal teenager avoids prison time

Dechlan Brennan -

A police officer who assaulted an Aboriginal boy during a violent arrest which left the victim injured and bleeding on the ground has escaped prison time.

Ryan Barlow, 30, was found guilty of assault occasioning actual bodily harm in May, with magistrate Rami Attia disagreeing with the defence's claim that the controversial leg sweep employed by Barlow on the boy amounted to a reasonable use of force.

On Friday at Blacktown Local Court, Barlow was convicted of the offence and sentenced to an 18-month community correction order with supervision.

He will also be required to undertake 125 hours of community service work.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported the victim's mother, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was glad Barlow was being held accountable for his crime.

"The issues of police brutality is a long-term systemic problem," she said outside the court.

"The police are public servants and held to the same standard as everyone else ... we hope the result will send a message to deter other police officers ... and [for them] to think about their relationships with the community and people and especially with Aboriginal people."

Human rights law firm, National Justice Project, represented the boy.

Their associate legal director, Emma Hearne, said it was a relief police brutality was being taken seriously, even if the officer ultimately escaped a custodial sentence.

"For our client and his family, today's outcome represents some form of justice, but importantly, it sends a message to all other police: violent and heavy-handed policing won't be tolerated," she said.

"This case reveals the need for sweeping culture change and training in de-escalation tactics within the police force.

"Police brutality against young First Nations people is a serious and systemic issue and can have tragic outcomes."

Mr Barlow outside Blacktown Local Court (Image: NCA NewsWire / Nathan Schmidt

"He's in pain"

Video of the incident in 2020 was filmed by the boy's friend and showed the victim saying "I'll crack you across the jaw, bro" from four metres away when Barlow and two other officers approached the boy and his friends in Surry Hills at around 5pm.

Barlow immediately moved towards the boy, telling him to turn around and place his hands behind his back. The boy replied, "What the f**k?" but complied.

Over the next six seconds, Barlow deployed the controversial leg sweep manoeuvre to bring down the child, who never moved towards the officer. Whilst not strictly prohibited, the move is not taught by NSW police.

The court was told the teen was given just over three seconds to comply with Barlow's orders before being brought to the ground, a move that caused the child to suffer cuts, a chipped tooth, an injured mouth as well as pain to his right knee and shoulder, face, jaw and neck.

In the video, the boy is heard telling Barlow whilst he is on the ground that he "can't f***ing stand up" and then, "you didn't have to hurt me".

Barlow told a police interview he felt threatened by the boy, who he said tried to kick him and his fellow officer.

However, magistrate Attia said these claims were "simply not accurate," pointing to video footage of the incident. He further contended the use of force by Barlow was disproportionate.

"The risk of danger sought to be prevented was either minimal or non-existent at best," Mr Attia told the court in May.

"Barlow employed use of force – being the leg sweep – without lawful excuse as provided in legislation."

The magistrate noted Barlow's record, which included no complaints against him, but argued a conviction was necessary to show the community the behaviour was unacceptable.

Hearne said it had been almost twenty years since the death of 17-year-old Kamilaroi boy TJ Hickey, who died while being chased by two police paddy wagons in 2004, yet "we're still seeing a disturbing number of people hurt by heavy-handed policing."

"Urgent reform is needed to prevent more First Nations young people being hurt or killed at the hands of the police."

The NSW Police told National Indigenous Times Barlow's employment status "remains under review."


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