Bookshop owner, Rowland Thomson speaks to DNA of the trauma and terror of the botched weekend police raid that left his housemate with a broken arm.
Thomson, co-owner of the Melbourne bookshop, Hares & Hyenas, has told DNA “the brutality was incredible”.
Thomson, his business partner Crusader Hillis, and a third housemate, Nik Dimopulos were all asleep in separate rooms when the raid began.
“Nik had, moments before, got up to go to the toilet and was obviously spotted by the armed squad as they stormed in the back door of the living space above Hares & Hyenas.
Officers had been tracking a stolen car, which led them to the Fitzroy address, where police say they saw a man fitting the description of their suspect.
“At no time did any of us hear the armed men use the word ‘police’ and both Nik and I thought it was a home invasion motivated by a queer hate crime,” says Thomson.
“There were men storming across the floor with torches. Nik saw the men coming at him and raced down the staircase and out onto the street in absolute terror. He was detained and restrained and in the process his right arm was broken in several places,” alleges Thomson.
Throughout it all he was screaming and was in obvious agony.
“It was only after we were able to get out onto the street that we could get the police away from Nik. Throughout it all he was screaming and was in obvious agony. It took some time for an ambulance to be called and for the restraints to be removed.”
As a result of his injuries, Dimopulos had surgery on Saturday evening, which involved a long procedure taking bone grafts from his hip and both knees, as well using metal pins to reconstruct his shoulder, says Thomson.
“Muscles in his arm had to be reattached as they had been ripped badly in the attack. He is in better spirits today but faces months of rehabilitation and the likelihood of full recovery will not be known for a very long time,” he says.
In a statement via his lawyer, Jeremy King, Dimopulos said he was “deeply traumatised” and has “a long road ahead.”
“All involved are considering their legal options and have instructed us to take all steps to ensure the police officers involved are held to account for their actions,” King said.
Victoria Police confirmed Dimopoulos was mistakenly identified as the suspect in a nearby car-jacking.
“We have been in post-shock trauma since Saturday night,” says Thomson. “It’s taken its toll on each of us. The images of Nik being restrained while screaming and then the experience of sitting with him in hospital over many hours over the past several days have led to a constant revisiting of the events for us. It is one of the most difficult things in your life to watch a very close friend and housemate of nearly a decade in such pain, caused in such a brutal and senseless attack.”
“The male was arrested on a roadway after leaving through a front door,” Victoria Police said in a statement. “The male sustained serious injuries as a result of the arrest and was subsequently conveyed to hospital where he remains.
“The man police arrested was mistakenly identified as the suspect police were searching for that had fled the stolen vehicle nearby. Victoria Police acknowledge the distress this situation has caused the victim and the incident will be thoroughly investigated by Professional Standards Command,” says the statement.
Thomson says he believes the Victoria Police response since the botched operation has “been everything it should be”.
“We have had Assistant Police Commissioner Luke Cornelius come and offer an apology directly. The review of the case is currently with two bodies: the VicPol Performance Standards Unit and with IBAC, an independent body that has agreed to a thorough review of the case and how it happened.
“We would like to see a review of protocols and practices in these sorts of instances, including the standard use of bodycams worn by police to record what has happened.”
However, Thomson also believes that specific officers from the raid, those who inflicted the damage on Nik’s arm and caused the contusions and bruising to his face, should be held accountable.
Thomson says the raid was in no way homophobic in nature, and that the local community have rallied around the Hares & Hyenas bookshop and cafe following the weekend incident.
“We so appreciate the gifts and messages and people shopping in-store and online in support,” he says. “It has been such an antidote from the thoughts that keep returning of the night. Nik has been overwhelmed with the flowers, messages and now a GoFund me page.”