Grandmother Dorothy Deshong reported her stolen handbag, only to be met by a paddywagon and several police officers with a warrant for her arrest over a 22-year-old unpaid parking fine.
Anika Hume The Cairns Post 25 July 2014
A Manunda grandmother has been left "gobsmacked and humiliated" after police sent to investigate a crime at her home arrested her over a $20 parking fine incurred 22 years ago.
Dorothy Deshong said she was completely unaware a warrant was out for her arrest before she was forced in to the back of a paddy wagon on Monday morning and held in police custody until the debt was paid.
The incident occurred after Ms Deshong reported a break-and-enter at her home in the early hours of last Friday morning, during which thieves stole her handbag containing valuable items including, among others, her false teeth and diamond engagement ring.
She said police told her a forensics team might attend the scene for fingerprinting, but come Saturday morning she was told this wouldn't occur.
But about 7.45am on Monday, she awoke to three police officers rapping on her bedroom window.
The 57-year-old said the trio spent "about 30 seconds" discussing the theft before telling her of her overdue fine - and resulting arrest warrant.
"I was absolutely shocked. The ridiculousness of it still floors me," she said.
"I was reporting a crime, but somehow it was me who was going to be doing time."
The fine was issued in 1992 in Townsville, where Ms Deshong was studying a psychology degree.
Since then, she has worked among "numerous" police officers, in hospitals and in prisons as a clinical counsellor, including a stint with the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
She also co-piloted a drug and alcohol mobile unit and introduced a needle availability program in Innisfail, and she has presented her work at a national indigenous domestic violence forum.
"I've been through so many criminal history checks with my work, it's beyond me how something like this could have been in the system 22 years without being picked up," she said.
Ms Deshong said one officer began searching her house and another accompanied her while she dressed, before they led her to an awaiting paddy wagon as neighbours, schoolchildren and friends of her grandson watched on.
"I felt like a hardened criminal and all I could think of was how it looked - how would they believe this was all over a fine?" she said.
Once at Cairns Police Station, a "woozy, shaking and dopey" Ms Deshong was told she'd be held in custody until either a court appearance the next morning or until the fine, now totalling $131, was paid.
Her daughter stepped in as financial aid soon after, allowing her mother's release by 10am.
But Ms Deshong claimed she never saw the warrant for her arrest, a search warrant or a receipt for the fine payment throughout the ordeal, despite asking for them.
Now she is seeking a public apology and explanation from the police for what she called a "lack of compassion" and for muddying her "good reputation".
"I feel like my rights have been violated," she said.
"It might have been their protocol to deal with me that way, but it's completely shaken my trust in the police."
Cairns Crime Prevention Sergeant Cary Coolican said executing warrants was one of a variety of jobs police faced on a daily basis.
"At the time this initial fine was issued, unpaid fines were converted into warrants," she said, adding that once it came to the attention of the officers involved that a warrant existed, they were required to execute it.
"The officers acted lawfully and actually took steps to reduce any potential discomfort for the woman by bringing her to the main police station rather than the watch-house."
They also quickly made arrangements for family to pay the associated fine and finalised the matter as soon as it was, she said.
Ms Deshong said she still hoped the thieves would return her handbag anonymously into her letterbox.