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Man suing state for lost finger tells court police ignored his screams

Mr Gebrehiwot, 40, is suing the state of Victoria for the physical and psychological injuries he suffered and for what his lawyer called the ‘‘hurt, humiliation and distress’’ he experienced.

The former refugee has an intellectual disability and says losing part of his finger affected his ability to perform daily tasks, but he is not suing for loss of earnings.

Doctors amputated part of Mr Gebrehiwot’s finger when he developed a bone infection after the break.

He said the amputation created daily difficulties such as writing, using a screwdriver and other tools, and a knife when cooking. During his evidence he was asked to walk to the jury box to show the six jurors his finger.

Mr Gebrehiwot said he drank three or four beers at dinner with his stepbrother and a friend before he went to Maddern Square to meet some other friends. The trial heard he was alcohol affected when four officers approached a group of African-Australian men and asked for identification.

He said he didn’t have his wallet on him, and the officer pushed and tackled him when he moved to a bench to reach for his wallet.

Barrister Fiona Ryan, for Mr Gebrehiwot, said the actions of police that night were a ‘‘grossly excessive’’ use of force that constituted false imprisonment.

‘‘He did nothing to warrant being manhandled in the way he was that night,’’ Ms Ryan told the jury in an opening address.

She said a police radio operator asked the officers at the square if they needed support, and one of them responded with a no but said: ‘‘We have just got a few Africans popping their heads up.’’

This ‘‘dehumanising’’ comment, Ms Ryan said, demostrated the ‘‘disgraceful’’ and ‘‘cavalier’’ attitude police adopted that night.

Lawyers for Victoria Police are yet to address the jury.

But they are expected to argue the officers restrained Mr Gebrehiwot because he spat at one of them. He denies this and denies resisting arrest.

Lawyers for the police are also set to argue Mr Gebrehiwot failed to seek medical treatment for his injured finger. But Ms Ryan said the infection developed later and he sought treatment whenever he experienced pain.

Mr Gebrehiwot told Roisin Annersley, QC, for Victoria Police, that in 2013 he was homeless and drank cask wine daily but had cut down both his alcohol and marijuana use by November 2014.

Asked if he was likely to be aggressive or violent when he drank alcohol, he said: ‘‘Not true.’’ Mr Gebrehiwot spent time in jail before the incident, the trial heard, but was not a person of interest for any crimes when arrested.

The jury has been asked to decide whether Mr Gebrehiwot was assaulted by police, whether the assault contributed to his injuries, and if it did, how much he should be awarded in damages.

The trial continues.

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