Can Disabled People Access the Criminal Justice System?

CW: Police Brutality

Police in Australia have launched an investigation after a young Aboriginal man with a disability was violently arrested. During his arrest, he was having a seizure and thrown to the ground while handcuffed in Taree.

On Tuesday, the 18-year-old was apprehended after police got reports of a young man attempting to break into two homes. According to police, the man then escaped. On Gwenneth Avenue, a man was arrested.

The young man is shown being led down a driveway by an officer before slipping and falling to the ground, where he begins to have a seizure. The officer is then seen hauling him up and moving him along the path until he collapses again and is handcuffed.

A second scene shows the young man being handcuffed and walked down the street before the same officer does a leg sweep on him, sending him roughly to the ground.

The teen’s aunt, who requested not to be identified by Guardian Australia, said he informed her he felt he was going to die after his arrest. He called her from jail on Thursday, after being charged with possessing suspected stolen goods.

She said that during the arrest, the young man banged his head and received a cut on his skull. He had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, according to her, and had been on the disability pension since he was 16 years old.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is an umbrella term for a group of disorders caused by a mother’s alcohol intake while pregnant. These conditions range in severity from the full presentation of fetal alcohol syndrome, which includes a distinctive set of facial features as well as growth and neurocognitive deficits, to a variety of conditions affecting the condition’s neurobehavioral symptoms without all of these features.

In May, a NSW police officer was found guilty of assaulting a 16-year-old Indigenous boy in inner Sydney in 2020, when he used a similar leg sweep maneuver to throw the child to the ground.

Constable Ryan Barlow was found guilty of causing actual bodily injury by Magistrate Rami Attia, dismissing arguments that the officer felt threatened.

The case gained national attention after mobile phone footage of the boy’s companions’ violent arrest was shared online. This footage, combined with body-worn camera evidence from Barlow and other officers present, was crucial to the prosecution’s case.

The police who performed a leg sweep on the 18 year old Aboriginal man after he had a seizure in Taree this week has been placed on restricted duty as the force investigates his actions.

Yasmin Catley, the NSW police minister, called a video of Tuesday’s arrest as “difficult to watch” amid calls for a legislative review into police use of force following previous high-profile instances, including Clare Nowland’s Tasering.

Everyone should have access to the criminal justice system. Disabled people are often treated unfairly in the criminal justice system. When dealing with the police or others in the criminal justice system, disabled people must be treated with dignity and respect.


Mukherjee, Raja A S et al. “Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: an overview.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine vol. 99,6 (2006): 298-302. doi:10.1177/014107680609900616

Rose, Tasmin, and Catie McLeod. “Aboriginal 18-Year-Old with Disability Thrown to Ground during NSW Police Arrest While Having Seizure.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 17 Aug. 2023,

Rose, Tasmin. “Officer Involved in Arrest of Disabled Indigenous Man in Taree Placed on Restricted Duties.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 18 Aug. 2023,

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