After a court dismissed charges over an alleged fight between two NRL stars, a defence lawyer accused police of acting “outside the law” and called for a review of the case.
Jack Wighton and Latrell Mitchell were to face the third day of an ACT Magistrates Court hearing on Wednesday (1 November), but instead, the prosecution offered no further evidence and all their charges were dismissed.
“Every story has two sides, and the police’s side to this story was extraordinary,” Mr Mitchell’s solicitor Tom Taylor of Hugo Law Group told media after the pair walked out of the courthouse.
“Mr Mitchell and Mr Wighton are proud Indigenous men who have been subject to the power of police acting oppressively, violently and outside the law.”
He said police claimed Mr Wighton had been behaving so aggressively while celebrating his 30th birthday in the Canberra nightclub Fiction in the early hours of 5 February 2023 that he should be removed from the area.
He also said police claimed Mr Mitchell had posed “such a threat” that he had to be taken to the ground to be restrained, accusing him of resisting them in the process.
“The other side of the story, that being the truth of what happened, needs to be told,” Mr Taylor said.
He said the claims Mr Wighton had been aggressive in Fiction were “a fantasy” and he had been “excluded unlawfully”.
Meanwhile, Mr Taylor said Mitchell had been taken down by a police officer before others arrived and also grabbed him. He complied while being forced to the concrete where he lay face down, “screaming in pain”, while police kneed and elbowed him in the head and back.
“There was absolutely no need by police to use the level of force that Mr Mitchell endured,” his solicitor said.
“There is a sobering reality to the way Mr Mitchell was dealt with by the police. Three to four grown men forced themselves on top of him, face down on the concrete. But for his extraordinary strength, he might not have survived.
“We know Indigenous people are dying in custody. We know Indigenous people are more likely to be arrested. We know Indigenous people are more likely to be incarcerated. We need to do better as a community.”
Mr Taylor claimed the incident became violent when the police became involved and said the case required a serious review.
“Mr Wighton and Mr Mitchell had exchanged words whilst walking away from the Fiction nightclub. However, that exchange did not involve a fight of any kind, which is what was alleged against them,” he said.
Meanwhile, Canberra Raiders CEO Don Furner said it had been an “extraordinary waste of the court’s time and taxpayer’s money”.
When the hearing began on Monday, the court heard it alleged police had taken Wighton outside Fiction and directed him to leave the area.
He walked away but allegedly began pushing, shoving and grappling with Mitchell on the street.
Bystanders allegedly separated them and Wighton walked away but was followed by Mitchell, who then shoved another person.
CCTV then showed numerous police officers swarming Mitchell on Bunda Street to arrest him.
Meanwhile, Wighton was nearby and was allegedly reminded by officers he was subject to an exclusion direction, but he told them something like, “Lock me up with him. You’re f-wits”.
On Tuesday, Wighton’s barrister Steven Boland accused a police sergeant of trying to have the two NRL players convicted “when you knew that there was poison at the root”.
Wighton was charged with fighting in a public place and failing to comply with an exclusion direction. Mitchell was also charged with fighting in a public place, as well as affray and resisting a territory public official.
Magistrate Jane Campbell dismissed all charges and ordered the police to pay the pair’s legal fees.
Mr Taylor said he understood Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury was aware of the case and was proposing a review once the outcome was made public.