Many Australians have learnt in recent days about the policeman who took two emergency triple O phone calls from a woman named Donna Rice who was stranded in a flood with her kids, but cared so little that he didn’t even make the effort to record her name correctly, and couldn’t be bothered to save her and her son by taking the simple step of sending a car.
The officer’s name is Senior Constable Jason Allen Wheeler, a policeman who has been in the force since 1994.
Three weeks before he took Donna Rice’s two triple zero emergency calls Wheeler had been stood from active uniformed duty as a consequence of an internal charge being laid against him for misconduct. That is the sole reason that he was in the police operations call center that day, and why he took Donna’s call.
The ground for the charge of misconduct was an allegation – found proven – that Wheeler had unlawfully assaulted an aboriginal teenager under the age of 17.
What had happened was that on the evening of 13 December 2010 Wheeler had attended the Police Christmas Party, and at about midnight decided to walk home, almost certainly because he had been on the turps all night and was as full as a fowl although the tribunal in its infinite wisdom – and presumably with the benefit of a breathalyser and a time travel machine, because Wheeler was not at the time required to blow in the bag even though he should have been – determined that although the Senior Constable had been drinking during the evening, he was not intoxicated.
On his leisurely, staggering ramble home from the police piss up Wheeler encountered a couple of Aboriginal youths who he claimed threatened him with a garden stake and told him that they were going to roll him (Wheeler would later tell internal investigators that there were 6 youths, but there is no evidence whatsoever to support his claim).
Quite wisely Wheeler hit the toe and took a bolt, and once safely out of ‘getting rolled with a garden stake’ range the off duty officer whipped out his mobile phone and called the station to report what had happened. I strongly suspect that he urged his colleague who answered the call to get out their quick and give it to the little black bastards, but as no recording or transcript of his call was ever tendered my contention can be neither proven nor disproved.
In any event his fellow officers got to the scene pretty damn quick, and within 15 minutes had apprehended the suspected law-breaking aboriginal youths and located the garden stake.
Somehow Wheeler became aware that the trio of youths had been located and detained, and you can only speculate that it was because one of the officers who had effected the arrest of the youths had called his colleague the Senior Constable to tell him, although given that inexplicably no phone records were sourced or produced by the internal investigation team or requested by the QCAT tribunal members we will never know.
Upon learning of the arrest Wheeler sped back to the scene of the crime. We are in the dark as to how he got there, but he was fast because it was a mere 20 minutes after he had allegedly been threatened by the teenagers before he was back, and in that intervening 1200 seconds the officer’s fear had evaporated. Now he was angry, very bloody angry, and the little bastard who’s threatened to hit him with a stick was going to pay.
Not unexpectedly for one who had been apprehended and restrained by the Senior Constable’s colleagues in his absence, the little bastard in question was lying prone on the ground when Wheeler arrived back at the scene.
The lad’s youth and his extreme state of vulnerability failed to ignite any flame of compassion in Wheeler’s heart however, because he immediately fired off a tirade of abuse directed at the kid on the ground – the tribunal found that although his language was inappropriate it wasn’t racist, to which I say ‘yeah right’ – and then, after pushing one of his colleagues out of the way, Wheeler charged at the grounded youth and launched a boot straight into his right ribs.
The misconduct charge was laid about a week later and Wheeler was stood down immediately from active duty pending their resolution. In the real world he would have been suspended without pay and the matter referred to external police for prosecution, but the Queensland Police Service has never operated that way – why, some officers have even quite literally gotten away with murder, as I expect we will all discover when the Shirley Brifman inquest commences – so the Senior Constable was sent off to cool his heels in the Communications Centre.
Then a few weeks later it rained, and Donna Rice called triple O, and Wheeler told her to f*ck off and stop driving through water that wasn’t there at the time, and then thanks to a total balls up by the Council – I call it criminal negligence – a huge torrent of water arrived and my little mate Blake Rice and his two eldest brothers lost their best mate and their Mum. and my big mate John Tyson lost his wife and son, and they all lost half of themselves along the way.
Suddenly the police force had a problem. They couldn’t let the fact that a copper who’d just kicked the crap out of an Aboriginal kid in custody who was lying prone and helpless on the ground become public; they’d be crucified.
That was bad enough in itself, but they had an even bigger problem, for if there was a crucifixion in the offing people might also start asking sticky questions such as ‘where was the Assistant Commissioner when all this drowning was happening, surely he wasn’t sitting down having a coffee and a sandwich in a food court during a f*cking flood? Especially after he’d just been out around town in the police car and seen what was going on out there?’ or ‘Hey someone said they saw a police car drive by the intersection while Jordan Rice was on the roof of the car in the middle of the torrent, shouldn’t we check the records to see if they were telling the truth?’
The police had problems all right, huge problems.
So the cover up kicked in.
Wheeler was sent on leave and the prosecution of his charges indefinitely stayed. This allowed the police to obtain a suppression order on both the internal investigation into the disgraceful way he dealt with Donna Rice’s emergency calls and his failure to send a car to save her and Jordan, and meant that Wheeler’s disciplinary charges weren’t disclosed because they had become sub-judice – it’s an age old trick – and thus couldn’t be printed and come into the public light.
A statement taken from a witness that had been taken by a junior officer was discovered. The witness, a young local battler who enjoyed a more than occasional recreational puff of the green, had unwittingly given a statement that put the Assistant Commissioner in the food court with his coffee and sandwich at exactly the same time that Jordan had been swept from the roof of his Mum’s car and Donna had dived into the deadly dangerous waters to try to save him (you don’t hear much about that part of the story but it’s 100% true: that lady was an absolute bloody hero).
The witness statement was poison and a problem that needed to be fixed quick smart, or the Commissioner’s career might sink into the murky mire too.
So a promising young policeman with a thirst for climbing promotional ladders – and coincidentally a bloke whose brother I played footy with at good old Valleys forever in 1982, the year we won the U14 Super A comp, isn’t it a small world? – was called in and tasked with jogging the witness’s memory using the same method that was used on Blake Rice to turn shallow water into deep.
We’ll tell you all about this outrage tomorrow, but for now you can confidently take my word that Detective Inspector Mark Ainsworth performed his task with aplomb and all of a sudden the witness’s recollection of events had changed completely and miraculously the time frames he described now matched the version of his movements that the Assistant Commissioner had sworn were true.
Of course it was just a sheer coincidence that not long after D.I. Ainsworth’s talents were properly recognised by his superiors and rewarded by way of a promotion to the rank of Detective Superintendent, or that in a most unusual decision he was afforded approval to form and become a Director of his own private investigation firm whilst continuing to hold one of the more senior roles in the Queensland Police Service.
‘A wholesale conflict of interest perhaps?’ I hear you ask. ‘One that leaves the D.S. open to any bugger alleging that he might farm what would otherwise and more properly be police work off to his private firm?’
Nah mate, wash your mouth out with soap – this is Queensland, that sort of nonsense doesn’t happen here, no bloody way.
The dead woman and kids Dad caused a few problems too after someone tipped him off about the content of the triple O calls and he started running around telling journos that they were crook, and that he suspected the fix was in. So the Assistant Commissioner paid him a visit to have a chat a few days after the twin funerals, and made sure that he turned on the secret recording device in his wristwatch before he walked through John Tyson’s door and plonked his bum on the couch, although he forgot to mention the fact that he was recording their chat to John.
That was merely an oversight of course, but it was a damn shame because had the A/C told the freshly minted widower that he was recording their conversation then John might have made a recording too, and then we would be able to definitely solve what it for me one of the most troubling in a series of highly troubling events in the whole sordid and incredibly sad saga.
You see John Tyson has claimed ever since the meeting that after exchanging pleasantries and offering his condolences and promising the world to him by way investigation into his wife’s death, the Assistant Commissioner suddenly and unexpectedly turned nasty, and told him in no uncertain terms that if he kept running around pointing the finger at police and accusing them of complicity in his wife and kid’s death then he (the A/C) would personally ensure that members of his force would fuck John and what was left of his family six ways to Sunday.
The Assistant Commissioner of course has consistently denied this claim made by John, and had produced as evidence of his assertions a copy of the covert recording he made of the unprompted meeting convened at his volition with a grieving victim who had not and has never been accused of any crime.
John says that the A/C’s lying, and that what in fact must have happened is that the A/C – a renowned technology expert once in charge of police IT – must have switched off the recording somewhere between the end of the nice phase of their chat and the beginning of the threats. In fact after he became aware that the A/C had been taping him as they talked and learned how, John thought back to that day and swears that the A/C was fiddling with his watch while they chatted.
Of course I am absolutely unable to vouch for the accuracy of John’s recollection, or to positively attest to whether the allegation he makes is true, but I can simply say with hand firmly on my heart two things,
The first is that in all the years I have been acquainted with John Tyson not once have I ever known him to lie or to tell a deliberate lie. He is in fact one of the most honest men that I have ever encountered, and that is coming from someone who most people that know me call the most hard-bitten, untrusting cynic that they have ever met, and they make the claim on fair grounds too.
The second is that not long after John’s fireside chat with the Assistant Commissioner a strange series of events occurred that involved his sons being harassed and physically attacked, receiving a seemingly never end of abusive phone calls to his home, cars driving by the house day and night carrying people hurling abuse at he and the boys, and then ultimately – and chillingly – an unidentified gunman spraying bullets at the family home.
John made complaints to police about the incidents but they appeared disinterested in investigating his reports about these crimes, even after the gun was fired at his home, and even though at that early stage of his grief he personally couldn’t care a toss if he lived or died, it all got to a point where he became so fearful for his sons well being that he was forced to sell his house at short notice, pack up and move out of the town that he’d lived in all of his life.
Now I am not for a single second suggesting that there was or is any relationship between these events and the visit by the Assistant Commissioner to John’s home that both parties remember in such diametrically opposed detail. I make no claim whatsoever that the two are linked in any way.
All I’m saying is that in a world in which grown men wearing blue uniforms given to them as a reward for taking an oath to uphold the truth can be demonstrated to have manipulated the words of a grief-struck child describing the circumstances of how his Mum died and twisted them into lies, there is no truth anymore that could ever be stranger than fiction.
Nothing can be discounted as untrue no matter how odd it may appear. Not even a salacious story about a policeman sinking the slipper into a kid in custody lying handcuffed and helpless on the ground, and deemed by a tribunal of law to have had committed a most heinous crime, yet suffering neither sanction nor summon to appear before a court to be punished for his ill-deeds is too strange to be true in a crazy world where truth and justice ain’t worth a hill of beans.
In the Queen’ s Land it seems the more things change, the more they truly stay the same.
You can read the full original text of the judgement in Senior Constable John Wheeler’s QCAT case by clicking here