2 March 2023

Jail for attacker that made racist remarks, assaulted sleeping stranger at campground

| Albert McKnight
Cotter Campground sign

Mitchell Joseph Smith, 45, has been sentenced for assaulting a man at the Cotter Campground. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

A man who made racist comments in a store where he assaulted an employee, and later crawled inside a sleeping stranger’s tent and attacked him on Christmas Day, has been jailed.

“A man cannot be lying in his tent on Christmas Day and be punched in the face,” Magistrate Ian Temby said before telling Mitchell Joseph Smith he would be in prison for the next few months.

“The community needs to be protected from that kind of behaviour.”

On 8 August 2022, Smith had gone to a 7-Eleven in Braddon where he began making racist comments to a customer while they were waiting in line at the coffee machine, the magistrate said.

“What are you doing here?” he asked the customer, and “Go back to your country”.

An employee walked over and told Smith he wasn’t welcome in the store if he disrespected other customers, but then Smith became verbally abusive to him before pushing him, causing him to stumble backwards into another customer using the machine.

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Then in the early hours of 25 December 2022, a man was sleeping in his tent while camping at the Cotter Campground in Stromlo with a group of his friends.

Smith unzipped the man’s tent, said, “I’m not going to take this”, then punched the man in his nose and above his eye while the man tried to shield himself with his blanket.

His attacker was also staying at the campground, but the pair hadn’t even spoken before.

The 45-year-old pleaded guilty to charges of common assault as well as assault occasioning actual bodily harm before he appeared in the ACT Magistrates Court for sentencing on Wednesday (1 March).

Legal Aid lawyer Ewan Small said Smith had spent 23 days in custody over the assaults, his first time in jail. He had said it was a “harrowing experience” and didn’t want to return.

Mr Small said his client didn’t disagree that there was work to be done to address his anger management, but he argued he was taking steps to do that.

Prosecutor Hannah Mitchell said Smith’s comments during the 7-Eleven incident showed there was obviously an element of racial motivation in the attack, which warranted significant denunciation.

She said the attack on the camper was “wholly unprovoked”, and she urged the magistrate to consider how it had happened on Christmas Day, which was “a particularly sentimental time of the year”.

Ms Mitchell also said a court report claimed Smith thought he had been provoked for both assaults and had tried to blame his “boisterous disposition” and his country background for the offending.

She argued that he was attempting to minimise his offending, and Magistrate Temby noted the victim blaming.

“I am left with someone who is seeking to blame others for what occurred, to some extent at least,” he said.

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Smith was fined $1000 and sentenced to four months’ jail, to be suspended after he served three months if he signs an 18-month good behaviour order. It was backdated to account for the 23 days he had already spent in custody, which means he can be released in May 2023.

Smith, who the court heard had lost his long-term job in the public service in 2017 and had been homeless, thanked the magistrate and his lawyer before custody officers led him away.

He works in IT support and lives in Kambah, court documents say.

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