Victoria’s Indigenous truth telling commission has heard “horrific” details about a police counter-terrorism raid that resulted in the alleged assault of multiple members of the same family.
The Cruse family had their house in Melbourne’s south-east raided in 2015 as part of the Operation Rising counter-terrorism investigation, which targeted teenager Eathan Cruse and two of his friends.
Cruse was never charged with any offence.
Eathan, his father, David, and mother, Anja, provided evidence before a closed hearing of the Yoorrook justice commission in March, but a transcript of the hearing was only published last week.
Eathan and David Cruse both claimed in legal cases that Victorian and federal police had physically and verbally abused them during the raid, including by using racist slurs. Eathan was awarded $400,000 damages in the Victorian supreme court and David settled his matter confidentially.
Eathan, who was 19 at the time of the raid, said the treatment of officers, which required him to be admitted to hospital, forever changed his life.
“I was pretty scared,” Eathan told the hearing. “ I thought they were going to kill me, by the way they were acting, the way he was threatening me, [I] didn’t know if he was going to do more later on.
“I had a cut of the front of my ear, bruising near the left eye, large swelling and bruising on my forehead as well as bruising and swelling on my neck and … I was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression.
“I lost a lot of … friends …. even like some members of my own family, I was considered an outcast to them. Ended up … taking drugs. I probably did for about three years, four years, and yeah, [that] left a big impact on my life that’s here to stay.”
During the hearing, Eathan Cruse confirmed he only became aware that Victoria police had closed an internal investigation into a complaint about the conduct of its officers during the raid after it was uncovered by Guardian Australia.
The finding troubled him as it meant that police conducted two separate investigations and determined on both occasions that none of the officers involved in his arrest used excessive force. This was despite a supreme court judge and the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption commission finding there was enough evidence the officers had used excessive force.
Eathan Cruse said an independent police complaints system must be established in the state to better protect Aboriginal people.
“There are probably … Indigenous folk out there who have been beaten by police and haven’t come forward about it.
“I think the police have been doing it for too long. The system needs change. It’s definitely broken. It suits the aggressor, and people like us can’t defend [ourselves].”
Prof Eleanor Bourke, the chair of the commission, commended the Cruses for their evidence and for showing “great strength and bravery, despite this horrific, horrific story.”
“I can hear that it’s going to be with you for [some] time, and I do hope you find some solace in just speaking to us, because it was one of the reasons we’re here.
“It only points to how hard our job is in this space, really, but I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
The Victoria police chief commissioner, Shane Patton, who gave evidence to the commission after the Cruses, apologised for the force’s treatment of Aboriginal people and signalled that he supported the independent investigation of police complaints.