Investigation into wombat video finds no wrongdoing

CLEARED: A still from the video from October. An investigation found no inconsistency with traditional hunting practices.
CLEARED: A still from the video from October. An investigation found no inconsistency with traditional hunting practices.

An SA Police Senior Community Constable who was videotaped stoning a wombat on Eyre Peninsula in October has been cleared of wrongdoing in an internal investigation.

Police were made aware of a video featuring the Senior Constable, identified as Waylon Johncock, walking in front of a slow-moving vehicle on a dirt road at the Gawler Ranges, east of Ceduna and repeatedly throwing rocks at a wombat until it fell over.

In a statement released on Friday, SA Police commissioner Grant Stevens said police received an unprecedented number of telephone calls, emails and social media comments demanding a response, which prompted a criminal investigation in parallel to an internal disciplinary investigation.

Whilst distressing to many who viewed the video...the Senior Community Constable's actions were not inconsistent with traditional hunting practices.

SA Police commissioner Grant Stevens

Commissioner Stevens said investigations were complete and it was ascertained that as a traditional Aboriginal man, the Senior Constable had an appropriate permit to hunt wombats for food.

"Whilst distressing to many who viewed the video, it has been established the Senior Community Constable's actions were not inconsistent with traditional hunting practices," he said.

"I have been advised that the wombat in the video was killed and eaten.

"The video shown on social media was part of a longer video that has not been released."

Police also presented an investigation file containing all available evidence to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions seeking advice on the laying of criminal charges.

Commissioner Stevens said legal advice from the director was received on December 5.

"It has been established by the director that if charges were to be laid, there would be no reasonable prospect of conviction for any criminal offence," he said.

Commissioner Stevens said in accordance with the Police Complaints and Discipline Act the Senior Constable had been provided with managerial advice and counselling regarding the implications of social media, particularly in regards to his role in SAPOL.

He said some might question this decision but assured the public the investigation was thorough.

"The Senior Community Constable is well regarded and respected by his colleagues, peers, supervisors, managers and the local community in which he serves," he said.

"I have confidence in his abilities to perform his current role as a Community Constable."

The commissioner's full statement:

Back in early October this year a video was published across a number of social media sites which depicted a man running along a dirt road in front of a vehicle in rural South Australia throwing rocks at a wombat.

The person throwing the rocks was an off duty Senior Community Constable of the South Australia Police.

The incident occurred at Gawler Ranges, east of Ceduna.

Within a very short period of time, the footage had been seen by many people across Australia and overseas and it garnered a large number of responses across many social media platforms and internet websites.

South Australia Police received an unprecedented number of telephone calls, emails and social media comments demanding a response to this issue. The video is confronting for many people, I found it confronting.

I stand by my reaction to the treatment of the wombat. I still find some of the content of the video disturbing - I take personal displeasure in seeing any animal distressed, or being killed as the wombat was killed.

I know many shared in my shock and dismay. I gave a public undertaking there would be a robust and thorough investigation, and that I would provide advice regarding the outcome of that investigation.

As a result a criminal investigation ran in parallel to an internal disciplinary investigation into the actions of the Senior Community Constable as portrayed in the video. I asked investigators to bring together all available information to assess if criminal charges should be laid.

The officer concerned was interviewed; evidence was also collected from other witnesses from South Australian government agencies and animal welfare bodies. Investigations are now complete.

Care was taken to appropriately assess all information obtained to address the overwhelming community concern and to ensure fairness to the officer concerned.

The investigators have ascertained that as a traditional Aboriginal man, the Senior Community Constable has an appropriate permit to hunt wombats for food. Whilst distressing to many who viewed the video, it has been established the Senior Community Constable's actions were not inconsistent with traditional hunting practices.

I have been advised that the wombat in the video was killed and eaten. The video shown on social media was part of a longer video that has not been released.

An investigation file containing all available evidence was provided to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. It is not unusual for SAPOL to seek the Director's opinion prior to the laying of criminal charges.

It was particularly important to do so in this case due to the complexity of issues surrounding indigenous hunting activities as permitted under legislation. Legal advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions was returned to South Australia Police on 5 December.

It has been established by the Director that if charges were to be laid, there would be no reasonable prospect of a conviction for any criminal offence.

With regards to the internal investigation, in accordance with the Police Complaints and Discipline Act the Senior Community Constable has been provided managerial advice and counselling regarding the implications of social media, particularly given the responsibilities of his office as a serving member of South Australia Police. This matter has now been finalised and is complete.

It is clear from the outpouring of emotions that some may question the outcome of this investigation. I can reassure everyone that the most thorough of investigations has been undertaken in this matter.

The Senior Community Constable is well regarded and respected by his colleagues, peers, supervisors, managers and the local community in which he serves. I have confidence in his abilities to perform his current role as a Community Constable.

I ask people to show respect for the process undertaken and accept my assurances it has been a robust investigation. I ask they show respect for those involved in the incident.

In practice disciplinary investigations and outcomes should remain confidential and not publicly disclosed. However given intense interest, and to ensure the public has confidence in the rigour of investigation and the independent assessment of the facts, I have agreed to the release of this information.

SA Police commissioner Grant Stevens