Man sets another man on fire, puts fire out, is called hero
Ronald Mitchell, the bloke who set on fire after being shot with a taser in Warburton, remains in hospital with extensive burns. In the meantime, The Sunday Times continues its assault on balanced journalism with today’s saucy page 3 spread:
Yes, the cop that shot an Aboriginal man in the face with a taser is a “HERO” of the community’s Aboriginal children. I guess? The article doesn’t go into why Sergeant Hamer is apparently a Pied Piper of the local schoolchildren, but, well, they’re pretty cute. Maybe the kids wanted the good people of Perth to know that they understand, profoundly, the fundamental right of the police to protect themselves with fiery force from the erratic behaviour of the marginalised drug addicts of their own community? Or maybe they got some lollies?
Look, I don’t know whether Sargeant Hamer acted appropriately in shooting his taser at Mitchell’s petrol-soaked nose. I also don’t know whether it was the taser that set Mitchell on fire. No one knows these things yet. But you wouldn’t get that from stories like this, which read like so much police PR. You know, “move along now, nothing to see here”.
The caption of the photo is probably the real highlight of this article:
LOCAL HERO: Sgt Nick Hamer, from Warburton police station, is back at work after being burnt saving a petrol-sniffing man who caught fire after being Tasered. He was welcomed home by local schoolchildren on Friday.
In just 24 words, observe how beautifully that first sentence misrepresents the story. Hamer’s involvement was “saving a petrol-sniffing man who caught fire”, right? Imagine a newspaper article that described the police who batoned Rodney King half to death as “saving a crack-smoking man who got beaten”, and you get a picture of just how crazy-biased that sentence is.
The only other real point of note in this puff-piece is that it contains Hamer’s first hand account of the incident:
“I told him to keep his distance from me and if he did come any closer then I was going to Taser him,” Sgt Hamer told The Sunday Times.
“He just kept coming so, with his prior history of violence both directed at people and police, I just wasn’t going to take any chances with him. There were too many people around that could have got hurt.”
“The fire has then started on him. I then dropped the Taser and threw him on the ground. The surface up there is fairly loose red sand and I held him down and shovelled sand on to him wherever there was flames and I burnt my left hand and my right finger.”
“Once I could see he had flames around him my No.1 priority was his welfare and to make sure the flames didn’t totally engulf him.”
Cool, fair enough. Reads like it was heavily vetted (“with his prior history of violence both directed at people and police” is clearly a practiced line, and notice how he only hints at the actual tasering with the watered down “I just wasn’t going to take any chances with him”) but, all else aside, it does seem like he really did act heroically once the fire broke out.
What’s interesting though is that this story seems pretty inconsistent with the police/media versions that were published initially. Recall that Mitchell was reported to be carrying a lighter and container full of petrol when he ran at the cops, the implication being that he was manically attempting to light THEM on fire. Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan, with typical bluster, claimed that:
there is a very strong possibility the fire was caused by the lighter [as opposed to the taser]
And yet, in Hamer’s account here, we’ve got no mention of the lighter, the container of petrol, or Mitchell running – essential facts, one would have thought, to justify his use of the taser. Instead we get:
I told him to keep his distance from me and if he did come any closer then I was going to Taser him.
He just kept coming…
If we accept that Mitchell, a crazed petrol-sniffer, was running toward the cops from inside the house carrying fuel and a lighter, isn’t it strange that Hamer had time to give what was apparently a level-headed warning? And if Mitchell was running, why on Earth would Hamer describe it as “coming”?
Never fear, the police investigation is going to take “months”, and Mitchell is going to be charged with attempted assault once his burns are causing him less excruciating daily pain. In the meantime, the children of Warburton are just so chuffed that the police and their tasers are around to protect them.