The Sydney street personality Danny Lim repeatedly asked police officers to call an ambulance and informed them he had post-traumatic stress disorder before he was thrown to the ground and bloodied in a “discontinued” arrest, a witness says.
The allegation is consistent with the version of events Lim outlined to Guardian Australia from hospital, where on Wednesday night he remained, being treated for bleeding on the brain and neck injuries.
A businessman, Mike Ashley, was walking through the Queen Victoria Building shopping centre when he noticed the heated confrontation between the 78-year-old and two officers, who had been called by building security.
Ashley said Lim was begging the officers to call an ambulance, minutes before he was thrown to the ground and handcuffed.
“He let them know very clearly that he had PTSD, and that he needed an ambulance,” Ashley said. “He voiced that very clearly at the outset. He became increasingly agitated as they approached him.”
When Ashley tried to intervene and asked Lim if he should call an ambulance, the officers threatened to charge him, he said.
“The officer … said, ‘If you do that, we will charge you with hindering an arrest,’” he said. “It didn’t seem like the sort of thing that you might use to de-escalate [the] situation.”
Speaking hours after Tuesday morning’s confrontation, Lim insisted he had informed the officers of his PTSD and need for help.
“I told them to ring an ambulance,” he said. “They refused.”
A photo Ashley provided to Guardian Australia showed the officers standing in front of Lim beside his smiling emoji sign.
He was wearing the “SMILE CVN’T! WHY CVN’T?” sandwich board he had on when police arrested him in 2019.
A police spokesperson said officers had been called to the QVB about 11am on Tuesday after receiving reports that Lim was refusing to leave the building.
“Police will allege the man was subsequently issued with a move on direction by officers and failed to comply,” the spokesperson said. “The man’s arrest was discontinued after he struggled with police and sustained an injury to his cheekbone.”
Police initially said they would be reviewing body-worn camera footage of the encounter and announced an independent investigation.
Less than 24 hours later, an updated statement confirmed the arrest would be investigated internally. It was being treated as a “complaint”, according to a police spokesperson, and as such would be investigated by another station.
“The matter has been triaged as a complaint and allocated to an investigator from another command within central metropolitan region,” the spokesperson said on Wednesday morning. “The internal investigation will have oversight from the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission.”
The deputy premier and police minister, Paul Toole, said he would await the outcome of the review, which he described as independent. Guardian Australia has sought clarification as to whether he was referring to the original review, the internal investigation or another review.
The arrest – videoed by passersby – has been criticised by politicians and lawyers.
The national criminal justice spokesperson for the Australian Lawyers Alliance, Greg Barns SC, said the incident was not isolated.
He said the handling of complaints against police needed to be overhauled to bring the force into line with other professions. “It is outrageous that police investigate themselves,” he said.
“There is a long history of police investigating themselves and either whitewashing an incident or, alternatively, simply facing internal disciplinary action or minor criminal charges, but certainly not the sort of charges that ought to be contemplated.”
The New South Wales Greens police spokesperson, Sue Higginson, has called for an independent investigation.
“You can’t have police investigating police,” she said. “Not having an independent investigation into this is completely what the NSW police state looks like.”
Police have declined to comment further.