The “disturbing” arrest of elderly Sydney street personality Danny Lim that left him with a brain bleed and neck injury is being internally investigated by New South Wales police after earlier announcing an independent review.

The “discontinued” arrest by officers on Tuesday morning in the Queen Victoria Building in the CBD is being treated as a “complaint”, according to a police spokesperson, and as such will 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.

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“The internal investigation will have oversight from the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission.”

Police on Tuesday said an “independent review has been launched, which will examine the actions of police during the incident” after earlier saying footage from body-worn cameras was being examined.

The NSW Greens’ police spokesperson, Sue Higginson, has described it as a backflip from the force and is writing to the police minister, Paul Toole, to demand an independent probe.

“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.”

She said it was the government’s “populist, disastrous draconian law and order agenda” playing out and protesters needed to be safe from police violence.

The moment police arrest 78-year-old protester Danny Lim, leaving him bloodied – video

“It played out right in front of us on this poor man, who is an icon, who is loved by many, is well known for his public, peaceful protest, and now he is hospitalised,” she said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Toole said he was awaiting the findings of the police review, which he also described as independent.

“I have spoken with the Police Commissioner, who has advised me an independent review has been established to examine the actions of police during the arrest of Mr Lim,” he said.

“I will await the findings of that review, and wish him a full recovery.”

Lim, 78, was in a stable condition at St Vincent’s on Wednesday and being monitored after a brain bleed and neck injury were discovered after he was was brought in bleeding from the cheek.

He had been walking through the CBD building towards the Town Hall train station wearing a sandwich board reading “SMILE CVN’T! WHY CVN’T?” when security called the police on him.

Lim told Guardian Australia the officers then “smashed me on the concrete floor”, causing his cheek to bleed, as can be seen in the footage that also showed the two officers handcuffing him while on the ground.

“I could be dead when they threw me down like that,” he said.

The violent arrest – that was videoed by passersby – has been criticised by politicians including federal Wentworth MP Allegra Spender, who said it was “disturbing” and questioned the use of force.

“Danny is a familiar face. He’s a serial protester. Some regard him a cheeky larrikin. Others as a nuisance. But there’s no doubt that he’s an old man,” she said. “Is this really the way to treat an elderly protester?”

Greens senator David Shoebridge described it as “disturbing and wrong”.

“Danny spends his time brining smiles to the faces of thousands of Sydneysiders, including myself, every morning,” he said.

A police spokesperson said officers were called to the QVB at about 11am, after receiving reports Lim would not leave the building after being asked to do so.

“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.

“He was treated at the scene by NSW Ambulance paramedics and taken to St Vincent’s hospital.”

The incident comes after Lim was arrested in front of a shocked crowd in early 2019 by police in Barangaroo while wearing the same sign.

After being fined $500 for offensive behaviour, the Sydney magistrate Jacqueline Milledge, who was critical of the responding officers’ behaviour, ruled the signs might be cheeky but they were not criminally offensive.

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