Today we heard from Conan Zamolo, a former Don Dale Youth Justice Officer. His evidence came primarily from videos he had filmed on his phone and subsequently uploaded to snapchat. Some of the most abhorrent incidences were:
Pressuring a detainee to eat faeces saying “eat that little bit of poo go! go! go!” When questioned on whether he considered the health consequences on the detainee Zamolo said he hadn’t.
Sitting astride a female detainee while slapping her face with her own hands, saying “stop hitting yourself”. Conan classified this as “just having a goof” as the girl was apparently laughing. On cross examination from her counsel it was suggested this was out of fear/ discomfort, something that had not crossed Zamolo’s mind.
Asking detainees “which one of you boys wants to suck my dick?… Come suck my dick you little cunt”. This perverse request was justified by the supposed “good rapport” Zamolo had with detainees.
Approaching a urinating detainee and asking “what are you doing you little gay dog?”. Zamolo said he had caught this on film because he had been playing around with his new apple watch, which didn’t explain why he uploaded it to snapchat.
He had also pretended to film a detainee masturbating in the shower, by holding his phone up.
He could not recall if he had ever uploaded positive videos to snapchat, such as the kids playing basketball.
No doubt what we heard today from Mr Zamolo was extreme, however it is important to note there was no chance for Zamolo to play down or deny his actions since he was thick enough to film it on his phone. Perhaps this is what really makes Zamolo’s case exceptional, what would fill in the many blanks of “I can’t recall” if other guards had done the same?
On cross examination from NAAJA, Peggy Dwyer asked “Can you see it would be confusing for children that the very conduct they were being punished for was being exhibited by guards?” This punishment could include being sent to the BMU (isolation), which despite having a 72 hour time limit in policy, was know to detain youths for up to 17 days for 23 hours a day.
This adds another layer of confusion for detainees who, as we heard last week, were expected to adjust to the unpredictable and varying nature of respective guard’s disciplinary methods.
Throughout Zamolo’s questioning it was brought to light that the incident report relating to the shocking case of 4 young boys being exposed to tear gas for 8 minutes because one of them had escaped he cell and was bearing an aluminum strip, bashing on walls and windows of the enclosed area, provided false information that “detainees were out of their cells assaulting staff with shards of glass, bricks and steel poles.”
Zamolo said that he was prompted to attend a “furious” Ben Kelleher to Dylan Vollers cell by the fear that “because of his skills” he could seriously hurt Voller if he chose to “jump on” him. Kelleher attempted to block the camera in Dylans room with paper before standing over him and “yelling a whole bunch of things at him”.
It is important to look at Zamolo’s behaviour in the context of a national culture that is entwined with rape culture, where language such as this is common place (though less acceptable in relationships with authority).
This would be a partial answer to O’Callahan’s question “what was it about Don Dale that made you think this was appropriate?” Though serious systemic failures and the psychology of authority are largely at fault for the toxic culture as well.
So long as we live in a hierarchical society where domination based on class, race and gender is rife, this culture will permeate our prison system and mix with an exacerbated power dynamic to facilitate the shocking abuse we have seen. If we could eliminate this domination from our society, the need to imprison people would be obsolete.