26 November 2023

Prisoner wins $160,000 after corrections officers 'went to town' on him in his cell

| Albert McKnight
Paul Palmer

Paul Palmer was forcefully removed from his prison cell by corrections officers in September 2017. Photo: ACT Courts.

An inmate at Canberra’s jail who was injured after being forcefully removed from his prison cell has been awarded about $160,000 in damages.

Paul Palmer successfully sued the ACT Government after claiming the incident in September 2017 left him suffering from extreme pain, with a significant injury to his right shoulder and ongoing mental harm.

He had been serving a lengthy sentence at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) when he became angry because he had been kept in an overflow area for several days with no exercise area or shower facilities, the ACT Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Lucy McCallum said this week.

The then-39-year-old roofer smashed a window to his cell along with two other prisoners, which meant they all had to be moved.

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Four corrections officers removed him in what is termed a “hard extraction” – being an extraction using force – even though he did not resist and was compliant with their instructions.

“The process of extracting him from the cell nonetheless involved the deliberate use of force, weapons, restraints and a physical hold intended to compel compliance by the infliction of pain,” Chief Justice McCallum said.

Palmer was kneeling and facing the wall when Officer Todd Ward pulled him away, spun him around and threw him to the floor.

Two other officers pulled his hands behind his back while the fourth applied handcuffs.

“Once they grabbed hold of me physically, they just spun me around and then just dropped on me with all their weights and then just each just grabbed an arm and they went to town,” Palmer claimed.

He was pulled to his feet then escorted along a corridor and down flights of stairs with his arms pulled up behind his back.

When they arrived at the new cell, Officer Ward jerked his right arm up sharply behind his back.

The pain Palmer experienced was something he was “never going to forget”, he said.

The government accepted Officer Ward’s actions would have been unlawful assaults if this had not happened in a prison, but it argued that a “hard extraction” had been warranted.

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Chief Justice McCallum said Palmer had never been violent towards a corrections officer himself, but an earlier serious assault had heightened safety concerns held by corrections officers.

She was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that Palmer had been assaulted and said Officer Ward had used “unnecessary and unreasonable force”.

She was also satisfied that Officer Ward caused a tear of a tendon in Palmer’s shoulder. However, she was not persuaded that the hard extraction had aggravated his PTSD.

He was awarded $159,654 for general damages, future economic loss, future out-of-pocket expenses and future domestic assistance.

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