Victoria Police payout for Age photographer pepper-sprayed at protest

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Victoria Police payout for Age photographer pepper-sprayed at protest

By Marta Pascual Juanola

Victoria Police has paid a settlement worth thousands of dollars to an Age photographer who was pepper-sprayed twice in the face by officers while covering an anti-lockdown protest in Melbourne last year.

Luis Ascui was sprayed directly in the eyes while photographing the rally in September 2021 even though he’d identified himself as a media representative. He was carrying three cameras and wearing a media accreditation at the time.

Age photographer Luis Ascui is pepper sprayed by a Victoria Police officer during the anti-lockdown protest in Richmond.

Age photographer Luis Ascui is pepper sprayed by a Victoria Police officer during the anti-lockdown protest in Richmond.Credit:Jason Edwards/Herald Sun

The matter was settled several weeks ago but Ascui received the payout last week. The incident is still subject to an internal investigation by Victoria Police’s Professional Standards Command.

Victoria Police released the following comment on Monday: “Victoria Police confirms it reached a confidential settlement with a person involved in an incident at a protest on 18 September 2021. The confidentiality provisions in the settlement terms are binding on all parties involved.”

About 700 demonstrators marched from Bridge Road in Richmond to a gorge on Barkers Road in Hawthorn on September 18, 2021, as part of the rally. But few protesters were left in the area when police accosted members of the media.

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Footage of the incident shows a police officer rushing and knocking into a photographer who was filming the incident as he repeatedly yelled “media”.

A different police officer is seen in vision spraying Ascui as he tries to move backwards. A female protester was sprayed in the face as she lay on the ground and another member of the media was also targeted with the foam.

Ascui said he had witnessed an escalation in the use of force by police against protesters in recent times and he no longer felt safe going to officers for protection if a rally turned violent.

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“In the past, my fear has always been, ‘I better watch out for the protesters and if the protesters get silly, then I could go to the police,’ but I don’t feel I can do that either,” he told The Age.

“I feel that a lot of the time police have the power to mellow things, but they also have the power to agitate things, and I find more often than not that lately, they’ve been more agitators.”

Luis Ascui washes his eyes out with water from a garden hose after being capsicum sprayed last year.

Luis Ascui washes his eyes out with water from a garden hose after being capsicum sprayed last year.Credit:Jason Edwards/Herald Sun

The payout comes as Victoria Police negotiates a separate settlement with Reuters sports journalist Ian Ransom, who was pepper-sprayed by police while covering the aftermath of the decision to block tennis star Novak Djokovic from staying in Australia to play the Australian Open in January.

According to a statement Ransom provided to Victoria Police, he was following a dark car believed to be transporting Djokovic out of his lawyers’ office on King Street when “without notice” a male police officer sprayed him directly in the eyes, causing him severe pain.

At the time, a crowd of more than 100 people had assembled nearby but Ransom said they were peaceful.

“The people in my vicinity were not posing a threat or disturbing the peace,” he said “If I was standing near people who were disturbing the peace I would have left the area.”

Lawyer Jeremy King, who specialises in police misconduct cases and is representing both men in their proceedings, said police needed to take the complaints seriously to avoid setting a “terrible precedent” in their treatment of the media.

“I think it is incredibly important that those investigations are treated very seriously by Victoria Police and that there really is proper accountability in both of these spaces [cases] so that going forward media can have the assurance that they will be able to report on things like this in a safe way,” he said.

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“There’s a significant concern that if Victoria Police don’t treat these complaints seriously and don’t take proper action on them, that really that sets a terrible precedent to how Victorian police can behave towards the media.”

King said both matters were still under investigation by the Professional Standards Command, but he hadn’t received any updates from investigators since April.

Victoria Police was contacted for comment.

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