Rugby league star Latrell Mitchell was “reduced to a weeping mess, worried that he might die” when police arrested him following an alleged scuffle with his cousin, Jack Wighton, a court has heard.
The two men, who are distant cousins, good friends and have played together in the NSW and Indigenous all-star teams, were allegedly involved in a fight outsideFiction nightclub in Canberra, where they were celebrating Wighton’s 30th birthday, in the early hours of February 5 this year.
Mitchell, who plays for South Sydney Rabbitohs, has been charged with fight in public place, affray, and obstruct/ resist territory officials.
Wighton, who played for Canberra Raiders at the time but will join Mitchell at the Rabbitohs next season, has also been charged with fighting in a public place, and failing to comply with an exclusion direction.
In the first day of a three-day hearing in the ACT Magistrate’s Court on Monday, the court heard Wighton had been given an exclusion direction allegedly for “pushing and shoving” a man inside the club, and had been given 10 minutes to leave the city zone.
Prosecutor Sam Bargwanna told the court that a police officer had observed that Wighton had “facial expressions that showed he was upset, and angry, and had clenched fists” – which the defence rejected – and had been asked to leave.
In CCTV footage played to the court, there was an altercation across the road from the nightclub shortly after, allegedly involving the two. The prosecution said the pair were “pushing, shoving, and grappling with each other”.
Before that 10 minutes were up, body-worn camera footage played to the court showed officers running at a group of people and police trying to break up a scuffle.
The footage went on to show Mitchell, who had knelt on the ground, being taken by police to a face-down position.
Sergeant David Power confirmed that the elbow, knee, and a spray can of one of his colleagues were used to get the Rabbitohs star face-down onto the road.
That officer had then used a batten to pry one of Mitchell’s arms out from underneath the body so police could handcuff him, Sgt Power confirmed while giving evidence.
Mitchell was told he was under arrest for assault, to which he asked who he had assaulted.
In the video footage played to the court, Mitchell could be heard crying out in pain, saying that he had “done nothing wrong” and asking police if they were arresting him “because I’m a blackfella”.
The defence said Mitchell had complied with directions to get on his knees, and then the ground, but was kept pinned to the ground by a police officer.
Wighton’s lawyer Steve Boland told the court the player was “screaming in pain” and was “horribly distressed”, while Wighton was standing nearby.
The prosecution told the court Wighton was reminded by police during Mitchell’s arrest that he was subject to an exclusion direction, and subsequently told the officers attending to him to “lock (me) up with (Mitchell)” and called the officers “f***wits”.
“It seems to me that (Wighton) is accused of not turning his back on his cousin and walking off into the night, in circumstances where Mr Mitchell ultimately was reduced to a weeping mess, worrying that he might die, and screaming that he’s got two daughters,” Mr Boland said.
The court heard that while Mitchell was on the ground, the Rabbitohs star told a group of bystanders, many of whom were filming the incident on their phones, to “release it” (the footage).
The defence called into question the legality of the exclusion direction in the first place, with Mitchell’s lawyer Jack Pappas arguing that it was unlawful.
Sergeant Power told the court he and his team had entered the nightclub as part of a high visibility patrol and had seen Wighton “push and shove” another man.
He said Wighton had an “angry expression on his face”, and had clenched fists which to him indicated a violent altercation could be about to take place.
Wighton was escorted upstairs where he was issued the exclusion direction, and told he had 10 minutes to leave the area.
The “pushing and shoving” could not be seen in the CCTV footage from inside the club tendered to the court, and the court heard that when Sergeant Power asked an officer to issue the exclusion direction, he did not explain why.
Mr Pappas told the court that once Wighton had been issued the move on notice, he had done so.
The defence is also arguing that the altercation Mitchell and Wighton were involved in as they moved down the street was not a fight because there was “no punch thrown and no one was taken to the ground”.
The matter will continue on Tuesday.