Lake Illawarra police pounce as man ‘attempts escape from custody’

Aaron Robert Adam Stewart
Aaron Robert Adam Stewart

Footage of a man’s brief alleged escape attempt from Lake Illawarra Police Station - quashed after a violent struggle with up to six uniformed officers - has drawn cries of objection from his supporters.

Aaron Robert Adam Stewart’s supporters loudly condemned the police response as video of the incident was played in Wollongong Local Court on Monday. 

According to the footage Stewart, 31, of Blacktown, went willingly into the back of a police van parked inside the enclosed dock at the station at 7.36pm on December 22. 

With the van poised to drive away, Stewart is inside for less than a minute before something – police say his request to use the toilet –prompts a uniformed officer to unlock the door. 

The secure roller door is opening as Stewart steps out. He lingers a moment then turns and moves towards it. 

He is quickly grabbed by the accompanying officer, but the ensuing struggle is prolonged, drawing in another five officers and only ending after Stewart receives several knees to the stomach and blows to the head area – hits categorised in police documents as “police-approved strikes in order for him to comply with their requests to stop resisting”. 

Magistrate Susan McGowan considered the footage on Monday as Stewart’s lawyer, Paul Paine, sought his release on bail. 

Mr Paine countered the police account that Stewart had “started to run” towards the opening door. “There’s a very, very short period of time where he’s moved away from the police officer,” he said. “The issue will be whether he was in the process of escaping.” 

Mr Paine said his client had been subjected to “an unceremonious bashing”. ”There were three or four blows while he’s on the ground cowering and protecting himself,” he said. “That, I assume, would be part of what the police say is him resisting.” 

But prosecutor Anna Comer defended the police position, arguing the footage showed Stewart was escaping, then resisting arrest. “The accused is pulling against the police, hence why he gets past the van dock area,” she said. “He’s pulling with complete force against everything they are trying to do.”

Stewart had a lengthy criminal record and had served nine months in prison for resisting a previous arrest, Sgt Comer added. “This is a dangerous person and [police] … will be found to be acting in a reasonable manner for someone who is attempting to get away from police custody.” 

Police documents tended to the court indicate police gave Stewart a one-second burst of capsicum spray – “but this had little to no affect.”

Stewart faces five charges, including three driving charges stemming from a six-car crash on the M1 at Mount Ousley the night of December 21. 

Police allege Stewart, a disqualified p-plater - caused the collision. According to witness accounts, he stopped to check the other drivers were uninjured, only for his car to continue down the road, cross onto the opposite side of the road and collide with the safety barrier. He allegedly then took his car keys and absconded. 

Police allege he initially nominated his girlfriend as the driver, but later told them he was behind the wheel and must have fallen asleep. 

Magistrate Susan McGowan found Stewart had had “ample opportunity” to comply with his arrest. 

Bail was refused. 

The matter returns to court February 20.