Friends out with rugby league stars Latrell Mitchell and Jack Wighton on the night they allegedly got in a fight told police they were engaging in “police brutality” as officers tried to handcuff a “weeping” Mitchell.
The pair, who are distant cousins and teammates, had been at Fiction nightclub in Canberra’s city centre to celebrate Mr Wighton’s 30th birthday in the early hours of February 5 when the then-Canberra Raiders player was issued an exclusion direction for “pushing and shoving” a man inside, the ACT Magistrates Court was told.
On Tuesday, the police officer in charge on the night the pair were arrested admitted he had given false evidence to the court about what had prompted the exclusion direction.
Mr Mitchell, who plays for the South Sydney Rabbitohs, has been charged with fight in public place, affray, and obstruct/ resist territory officials.
Mr Wighton, who played for the Canberra Raiders at the time but will join Mr Mitchell at the Rabbitohs next season, has also been charged with fighting in a public place and failing to comply with an exclusion direction.
Sergeant David Power had told the court on Monday Mr Wighton had an “angry expression” on his face and had “clenched fists” inside the club which had prompted him to expel the Raiders player from the premises.
Under questioning from Mr Wighton’s lawyer Steve Boland on Tuesday, Sergeant Power was played CCTV and body-camera footage from the time of the alleged incident inside the club.
No incident involving Mr Wighton could be seen in the footage, and Sergeant Power admitted: “What I saw didn’t line up with the footage”.
“What I saw appears to have not happened,” he said.
Sergeant Power conceded he had a “memory issue”, and in this case it “appears my memory has failed me”.
Mr Bowland accused Sergeant Power of trying to “frame” his client.
“It wasn’t a lie. It’s what I believed happened,” Sergeant Power said.
The sergeant later apologised to Mr Wighton in front of the court.
“Sorry Jack, if that’s what happened. I thought I saw something different,” he said to Mr Wighton.
Under further questioning, Mr Bowland asked if it was a “fact you’ve given false evidence”, to which Sergeant Power said it “appeared as so”.
As the group left the club and walked away, police allege Mr Wighton and Mr Mitchell got into a fight. The pair’s lawyers told the court on the first day of the hearing that the scuffle did not constitute a fight because there was “no punch thrown and no one was taken to the ground”.
On the second day of the hearing, body-worn camera footage played to the court shows police running towards a group of people, including Mr Mitchell and Mr Wighton, and separating them.
Mr Wighton was taken away and arrested for contravening the exclusion order, while other officers dealt with Mr Mitchell.
In footage played to the court, Mr Mitchell – who police confirmed had compliantly gotten to his knees – was face down on the ground and could be heard crying out in pain and begging police to “be careful” as officers pinned him to the ground.
A day earlier, the court had been told that officers used elbows, knees, a spray can, and a baton to ensure they could cuff Mr Mitchell.
In court on Tuesday, footage shows police shouting at Mr Mitchell to “stop resisting” and give them his other arm so he can be cuffed.
His friends, including other rugby league players, watched on as Mr Mitchell pleaded and cried in pain, asking police to “de-escalate” the situation and “let him go”.
The court heard one female friend, who had been filming the incident, tell police they were engaging in “police brutality” as they arrested the Rabbitohs star.
She also suggested police were “racist” in their conduct against the Indigenous All Star.
Mr Mitchell’s lawyer Jack Pappas argued that police were engaging in “unlawful and improper” conduct when they issued Mr Wighton his exclusion direction and arrested Mr Mitchell.
Sergeant David Power, giving evidence, said he didn’t recall seeing officers under his supervision use force, but after being played video footage, he said the force used on Mr Mitchell was justified.
The hearing continues.