Wombat-stoning police officer will keep his job
The police officer who stoned a wombat to death will not face any criminal or internal disciplinary charges over the incident, Police Commissioner Grant Stevens has announced.
Community Constable Waylon Johncock will instead receive managerial advice and counselling over his actions in allowing the incident to be filmed.
A police investigation into the incident found Constable Johncock had taken the wombat within traditional hunting laws and the wombat he killed was consumed by his family.
It found the method was commonly used by Aboriginal people, either alone or in conjunction with traditional club-like weapons which were then used to dispatch an animal.
The internal inquiry was launched in early October after footage emerged on social media of Constable Johncock, a community constable based at Ceduna on SA's Far West Coast, stoning a wombat and laughing about it with a relative. The video sparked outrage and calls for Constable Johncock to be charged with animal cruelty offences.
Mr Stevens issued a lengthy statement on Friday afternoon - which is printed in full below this story - saying SAPOL had received "an unprecedented number of telephone calls, emails and social media comments demanding a response".
"I still find some of the content of the video disturbing - I take personal displeasure in seeing any animal distressed, or being killed as the wombat was killed. I know many shared in my shock and dismay," Mr Stevens said.
"The investigators have ascertained that as a traditional Aboriginal man, the Senior Community Constable has an appropriate permit to hunt wombats for food. Whilst distressing to many who viewed the video, it has been established the Senior Community Constable's actions were not inconsistent with traditional hunting practices.
"I ask people to show respect for the process undertaken and accept my assurances it has been a robust investigation."
In late October, The Advertiser revealed police had sought a legal opinion from the Director of Public Prosecutions on the outcome of the investigation and whether Constable Johncock's actions warranted criminal or disciplinary sanctions.
However, the ODPP initially declined to provide advice and requested more information from police.
After being provided more information, the ODPP considered the file and on Thursday advised senior police there was no basis for any charges, based on a number of factors.
It is understood these included current legislation that allows traditional hunting of protected species, Constable Johncock's admissions concerning traditional hunting and the consumption of any wildlife killed.
Senior police took the unusual step of obtaining an opinion from the ODPP because of this case's sensitive nature, the high level of public interest and the fact the individual involved was a police officer.
Such opinions are normally only sought from the ODPP when major indictable charges are being considered.
The opinion from the ODPP not to prosecute Constable Johncock matched and endorsed the decision reached by SAPOL following its investigation.
Throughout the police inquiry, Constable Johncock has been on an administrative order, restricting his policing duties. He has now been returned to operational duties.
Despite the public outrage after the video emerged, some Aboriginal elders came to Constable Johncock's defence, saying his actions were in line with traditional hunting practices.
As part of the police inquiry, Internal Investigations detectives spent time on the West Coast interviewing many people, including the witness to the incident, Johncock's family and associates, and Aboriginal elders.
"It is clear from the outpouring of emotions that some may question the outcome of this investigation. I can reassure everyone that the most thorough of investigations has been undertaken in this matter," Mr Stevens said in his statement.
"The Senior Community Constable is well regarded and respected by his colleagues, peers, supervisors, managers and the local community in which he serves. I have confidence in his abilities to perform his current role."
An online petition organised by the Wombat Awareness Organisation has attracted more than 350,000 signatures calling for the laws that allow traditional hunting to be reviewed.
Both sides of politics have not ruled out reviewing the laws, but have been awaiting the result of the police investigation before making any decisions.
In mid-October, Premier Steven Marshall - who described the vision of the wombat being stoned as "disturbing'' and "gut-wrenching'' - said he had spoken to many Aboriginal leaders about the activity and they did not support animal cruelty.
"Every piece of legislation exists in a dynamic environment … but let's just wait to see what this investigation shows," Mr Marshall said at the time.
Ngarrindjeri elder Major Sumner denounced the activity and called on the State Government to strengthen legislation to refine traditional hunting laws and methods.
Far West Coast Aboriginal Corporation chief executive John Buckskin said some people in the Aboriginal community adhered to "old methods" and used "whatever is available" to them but he would not condone killing for sport.
COMMISSIONER GRANT STEVENS' FULL STATEMENT
Back in early October this year a video was published across a number of social media sites which depicted a man running along a dirt road in front of a vehicle in rural South Australia throwing rocks at a wombat.
The person throwing the rocks was an off duty Senior Community Constable of the South Australia Police. The incident occurred at Gawler Ranges, east of Ceduna.
Within a very short period of time, the footage had been seen by many people across Australia and overseas and it garnered a large number of responses across many social media platforms and internet websites. South Australia Police received an unprecedented number of telephone calls, emails and social media comments demanding a response to this issue. The video is confronting for many people, I found it confronting. I stand by my reaction to the treatment of the wombat.
I still find some of the content of the video disturbing - I take personal displeasure in seeing any animal distressed, or being killed as the wombat was killed. I know many shared in my shock and dismay. I gave a public undertaking there would be a robust and thorough investigation, and that I would provide advice regarding the outcome of that investigation.
As a result a criminal investigation ran in parallel to an internal disciplinary investigation into the actions of the Senior Community Constable as portrayed in the video. I asked investigators to bring together all available information to assess if criminal charges should be laid.
The officer concerned was interviewed; evidence was also collected from other witnesses from South Australian government agencies and animal welfare bodies. Investigations are now complete.
Care was taken to appropriately assess all information obtained to address the overwhelming community concern and to ensure fairness to the officer concerned.
The investigators have ascertained that as a traditional Aboriginal man, the Senior Community Constable has an appropriate permit to hunt wombats for food. Whilst distressing to many who viewed the video, it has been established the Senior Community Constable's actions were not inconsistent with traditional hunting practices.
I have been advised that the wombat in the video was killed and eaten. The video shown on social media was part of a longer video that has not been released.
An investigation file containing all available evidence was provided to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. It is not unusual for SAPOL to seek the Director's opinion prior to the laying of criminal charges. It was particularly important to do so in this case due to the complexity of issues surrounding indigenous hunting activities as permitted under legislation.
Legal advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions was returned to South Australia Police on 5 December. It has been established by the Director that if charges were to be laid, there would be no reasonable prospect of a conviction for any criminal offence.
With regards to the internal investigation, in accordance with the Police Complaints and Discipline Act the Senior Community Constable has been provided managerial advice and counselling regarding the implications of social media, particularly given the responsibilities of his office as a serving member of South Australia Police.
This matter has now been finalised and is complete.
It is clear from the outpouring of emotions that some may question the outcome of this investigation. I can reassure everyone that the most thorough of investigations has been undertaken in this matter.
The Senior Community Constable is well regarded and respected by his colleagues, peers, supervisors, managers and the local community in which he serves. I have confidence in his abilities to perform his current role as a Community Constable.
I ask people to show respect for the process undertaken and accept my assurances it has been a robust investigation. I ask they show respect for those involved in the incident.
In practice disciplinary investigations and outcomes should remain confidential and not publicly disclosed. However given intense interest, and to ensure the public has confidence in the rigour of investigation and the independent assessment of the facts, I have agreed to the release of this information.