Korey Penny alleges he was on his way to work on the Melbourne Metro tunnel when a police officer spear-tackled him off his bike on St Kilda Road, leaving him hospitalised and without feeling in his arm.
Victoria police on Friday said the 32-year-old Noongar man was riding on the footpath without a bike light and that he refused to stop. A spokeswoman said: “At this stage, we are satisfied with the use of force.”
However, the Australian Workers’ Union is lodging complaints and the Police Accountability Project has said the “violent assault” must be independently investigated.
Penny told Guardian Australia he was not informed why he was being stopped before an officer tackled him off his bicycle about 5.30am on Thursday leaving him “crawling on the ground like an animal”. He said at no point was he told what he had allegedly done.
He said he was left confused and in pain. His employer attended the scene after Penny called to say he was waiting for an ambulance and could not attend work.
A Victoria police spokeswoman told the Guardian on Thursday she could not find details of the incident. “Police were in the area at that time in relation to a reported burglary, where a 56-year-old man was arrested,” she said.
A police spokeswoman subsequently on Friday afternoon said Penny had been “observed riding along the footpath without functioning lights however [he] refused to stop for police when asked to”.
The Australian Workers’ Union said it would lodge a complaint with Victoria police and the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission. The union’s Victorian branch secretary, Ben Davis, said “the treatment meted out to Korey was appalling and yet far too common”.
Penny said he was cycling along St Kilda Road when he passed a police officer on foot who allegedly told him to “fucking walk your bike”. Penny responded that he was on his way to work and kept cycling. He said he then saw four more officers ahead and, as he passed them, one officer allegedly spear-tackled him to the ground, injuring his arm.
“I was on the ground and one jumped on top of me and I told them ‘My arm is stuffed’. They said ‘You’re lying’,” Penny alleged. “I asked them to help me up, but they just circled me as I was crawling on the ground like an animal. They said ‘fucking get up yourself’. I couldn’t move and one of the female police officers called an ambulance.”
He alleged the officers did not tell him why he had been pinned to the ground as “they were too busy swearing at me [and] one of them called me a cunt”.
The police spokeswoman on Friday said Penny was “apprehended by police” after he failed to stop. “He was transported to hospital to be assessed for a possible arm injury,” she said. It was expected he would be charged on summons with traffic-related offences including failing to stop on police request, riding a bicycle on a footpath and riding a bicycle without a light at night.
“An internal debrief has been conducted in relation to the matter, incorporating the use of force,” the spokeswoman said. “At this stage, we are satisfied with the use of force in relation to this incident. The police members involved in this incident were not aware of the man’s ethnicity until it was later confirmed after they had a verbal interaction with him.”
Penny said after he was tackled he rang his bosses who came and helped him contact the union. Before the paramedics arrived, police searched him, and Penny alleges they destroyed his backpack in the process. Paramedics took him to the Alfred hospital. Doctors told him his arm was injured but not broken and feeling would eventually return to his arm, which is now in a sling.
Penny is a tunneller for the Melbourne Metro project and is permitted to work under current Covid-19 restrictions. He lives on his own in Melbourne and said he can’t shower easily due to his injuries.
“Police took my details before I left and then fined me for not having a light on my bike,” Penny said. “Police haven’t told me anything about why they tackled me.”
He said police did not ask to see his permit or give any other reason for stopping him. When his boss asked police why Penny was stopped, one officer allegedly said “he is a suspect”. Penny said he was not sure if the incident was racially motivated but insisted “they knew I was a blackfella”.
“My family are all in Perth and they’re worried about me,” he said. “My family has experienced this treatment all their lives. I thought working in Melbourne and in a good job in this day and age, I’d be getting away from any bad stuff. But us Aboriginal people can’t get away from this. It’s part of our lives.”
A lawyer with the Police Accountability Project, Jeremy King, is representing Penny and said what allegedly occurred was “extremely concerning”.
“An innocent Aboriginal man was on his way to work as a permitted worker … and he has been violently assaulted by Victorian police,” King said. “It must be independently investigated as soon as possible.”