Australia: 'Police failed catastrophically': Officer turns down Bourke St award - - PressFrom - Australia
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Australia 'Police failed catastrophically': Officer turns down Bourke St award

16:50  18 october  2019
16:50  18 october  2019 Source:   theage.com.au

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A police officer who unsuccessfully tried to get elite officers to arrest James Gargasoulas in the hours before the Bourke Street massacre has rejected a police citation recently awarded for his service during the incident.

Sergeant Frank Caridi sent Victoria Police a blistering letter saying he is “taunted daily with the knowledge that Victoria Police failed catastrophically in its mission” and that he would give his own life if it could bring one of the six dead victims back.

The revelation comes as the Coroner’s Court heard another police officer, who ended the massacre by ramming Gargasoulas’ car, has split from his Victoria Police colleagues and hired his own lawyer for the inquest into the tragedy.

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The fractures come after months of tension and recriminations about the decision made on January 20, 2017 not to intercept Gargasoulas, allegations of a breakdown in command, and the conclusions of an internal police review of the incident by Assistant Commissioner Stephen Fontana.

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a man wearing a suit and tie standing in front of a window: Sergeant Frank Caridi, who tried unsuccessfully to get elite police to arrest James Gargasoulas before the Bourke Street massacre, has rejected a Victoria Police commendation sent to him before he was due to give evidence at the inquest.© Jason South Sergeant Frank Caridi, who tried unsuccessfully to get elite police to arrest James Gargasoulas before the Bourke Street massacre, has rejected a Victoria Police commendation sent to him before he was due to give evidence at the inquest.

Mr Caridi, who contacted the coroner in July after he was not interviewed as part of incident review, repeatedly requested the elite Critical Incident Response Team contain and arrest Gargasoulas almost nine hours before he killed six people and wounded dozens of others.

“To this day, I am still troubled by the refusal from colleagues to assist in my desperate attempt to apprehend an unremorseful and unhinged murderer who, after savagely attacking his own brother with a knife, was left free to roam the streets and wreck [sic] havoc,” he wrote in the letter to Victoria Police rejecting the Certificate of Appreciation.

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“I am still haunted by the senseless and preventable deaths of six innocent people, in particular three-month-old Zachary Matthew-Bryant and 10-year-old Thalia Hakin. I am disturbed that 27 others were injured and came perilously close to death.

“So, being someone who is taunted daily with the knowledge that Victoria Police failed catastrophically in its mission, it would be immoral for me to profit in any way from this tragedy and out of respect for the victims, I regret that I cannot accept the Citation.”

The commendation was sent to Mr Caridi in late August 2019, a month after the coroner accepted his request to be called as a witness. He had recently left the police force.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman conceded Mr Caridi’s citation arrived much later than other officers commended for their work on the day.

“Victoria Police recognises it took some time to give the award to a former employee,” she said.“Since then he has returned the award to his former division and we accept his decision.”

The fallout over police actions before and during the massacre has been particularly bitter inside the two CIRT teams involved on the day, one of which refused to respond to Mr Caridi’s call-outs in the morning before the rampage and a second that pursued Gargasoulas across the city and into the CBD.

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On Friday, the Coroner’s Court heard that the CIRT officer who rammed Gargasoulas’ car and potentially fired the bullet that struck him was now refusing to be represented by the same legal team as his colleagues. The officer cannot be named for safety reasons.

More than 50 other police officers will be called to testify at the inquest, which is investigating the period from when Gargasoulas was released on bail six days before the massacre until his arrest in Bourke Street.

The inquest was originally set to only examine the circumstances leading up to the massacre but not the deaths themselves, a decision that was reversed after the families of the victims asked for it to include how police acted during the actual rampage.

Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton and the senior executive of Victoria Police, including Mr Fontana, are being represented at the inquest by their own legal team headed by Ian Freckleton QC.

The Coroner’s Court on Friday also heard a plea for help finding legal representation from Mr Caridi, who is refusing to accept counsel assigned to him by Victoria Police from a list of pre-approved firms that have existing relationships with the force.

Mr Caridi said Victoria Police had refused to fund his use of a lawyer “not influenced by Victoria Police by association and not acting in a conflict of interest”.

He told the court that one firm was already representing a number of police at the inquest, and another was defending the CIRT team in civil litigation stemming from a nightclub shooting.

“I think there’s an expression for this called stacking the odds or stacking the deck,” Mr Caridi told the court.

“Your honour, out of respect for the victims, I do not wish to delay or hinder the inquest in any way. This is about them and not about me. However, in the interest of ensuring the integrity of my evidence, it seems I've reached an impasse.”

Coroner Jacqui Hawkins said she recognised Mr Caridi was in a “difficult position” but noted she had no power to order the police to fund his legal representation.

Mr Caridi said he would seek an “ethics ruling” from the Law Institute of Victoria about his situation. A spokesman for the Police Association said the union had not received any formal application for financial assistance from Mr Caridi.

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