Former cop pleads guilty
FORMER Cannonvale policeman Ben Price has pleaded guilty in Bowen District Court to three serious bashings and a minor assault after strenuously denying them at committal hearings at Proserpine last year.
He stood in the prisoner dock in Bowen on Monday and in a clear, firm voice issued the one-word plea as each of three charges of assault causing bodily harm and another of common assault were read by the clerk of court.
Television crews from Brisbane waited anxiously outside Bowen's small courthouse as they waited for a brief glimpse of Price as he entered the court.
Many locals stopped to ask if mayor and Federal election contender Mike Brunker was due in court after his weekend altercation at Bowen races.
Judge Durward released Price on continuing bail to appear for sentencing in Townsville at 10am on October 8 after his barrister, Steve Zillman, said the married father of two was “no prospect of not answering bail”.
Outside the court, Dave and Debbie Steele, the parents of victim Tim Steele, who travelled from NSW, said they were glad Price was out of the force.
They said his reaction to a minor offence by their son was out of proportion to what he did.
At Price's committal last year, a young policewoman broke down in tears as she gave evidence against her mentor after a police DVD showed the victim, Timothy David Steele, being punched while with hands cuffed behind his back and with a hose apparently shoved into his mouth.
About eight months into her posting at Airlie, in the early hours of May 25, 2008, she and Price had attended a fist fight between two men when Steele jumped in.
She said she pulled him off and cautioned him before hitting him with a burst of capsicum spray when he became agitated.
Price had then handcuffed Steele and while with two security men helping to separate the two fighters, she heard “a loud bang behind her and people gasp”.
She believed it to be Steele's head hitting the police car before being put inside.
Police video from cameras at the station minutes later showed Steele being dragged backwards out of the van by Price, who stood on the cuffs and washed the spray from Steele's face with a hose.
Constable Sonter said she heard screaming and groans, water running then a smacking sound like a punch, which was seen as Price punching Steele in the head with a roundhouse right.
The following day she decided to lodge an assault charge against Price with her superiors.
She detailed one arrest early in her career when she and Price had come across two men urinating at the lagoon after dark Price had punched one man, Mark Le Fevre, of Sydney, in the face, knocking him to the ground then knelt on his shoulder and repeatedly punched the man in the face as she sat on his legs to stop him ‘thrashing around'.
Later during the preliminary hearing, a brutal three-minute video showing a slender 47kg young woman having her arms handcuffed behind her back, wrenched head-height then thrown to the floor of a police watchhouse, grappled around her neck then lifted off the ground and back to her feet by her hair was played.
Renee Toms, now of Sydney, said she had been arrested outside an Airlie nightclub, but not charged, over the alleged theft of a wallet.
She'd been intoxicated and asked why she needed to be handcuffed as she was led to a police car.
Minutes later at Cannonvale police station, Ms Toms said she'd had her head banged into a wall by Senior Constable Price on the way to the watchhouse.
She said at the counter, her handcuffed arms had been pulled above her head and her upper body forced forward after she had noticed a cockroach crawling up the wall and asked sarcastically if it was a police pet.
“He dug his thumbs into my neck and I scratched his thumb to let him know it hurt,” Ms Toms told the court.
“I was pulled to the ground and had blood dripping from my face. I was crying and upset, being rude and swearing and I was then put in the cells,” she said.
Price was suspended from duty in May 2008 following an inquiry into the alleged incidents by officers from Central Region and Ethical Standards Command.