The New South Wales police commissioner says he feels “sympathetic” to officers who handcuffed, tasered and capsicum-sprayed NRL player Curtis Scott while he was unconscious during an “unlawful” arrest on Australia Day weekend this year.
On Tuesday, the commissioner, Mick Fuller, made one of his regular appearances on Sydney radio station 2GB to defend the officers after the Sydney Morning Herald revealed the NRL star plans to sue the police for more than $100,000 in damages over the arrest.
Scott, a star centre with the Canberra Raiders, was charged with seven offences after falling asleep in Moore Park following a night out at Sydney’s Ivy nightclub on Australia Day weekend. The charges included resisting arrest and assaulting police.
But the majority of the charges were thrown out during a court hearing last week after dramatic body cam footage tendered in court showed officers handcuffing the footballer and saying “don’t resist” while he lay at the base of a tree barely conscious and disorientated.
The footage then shows officers used capsicum spray and a taser as the footballer became increasingly distressed.
In court last week, magistrate Jennifer Giles described the arrest as “unlawful”, adding that the police argument that they were entitled to handcuff Scott was “a very long and frightening bow”. Five of the original seven charges were withdrawn by police after that decision, while Giles recorded no conviction for two charges for offensive behaviour.
On Tuesday, however, Fuller said in an interview with 2GB host Ben Fordham he felt “sympathetic” for the officers involved in the arrest.
“Whether or not they used their powers lawfully – I can’t comment on that. It’s still subject of court proceedings and oversight. But I am sympathetic to police that turn up to deal with drunken idiots every night,” Fuller said.
He said that the footage needed to be watched in full “to get it in context”.
“In these situations, if someone is trespassing in your front yard, they are asleep, they are intoxicated, they’re a young fit man, there are only a couple of ways to get them out,” he said.
“And one of those is for them to stand up and come with you. Often in these situations, it does escalate [and] there’s nothing we can do about that, if the individual is not going to comply with a reasonable direction.”
When Fordham interrupted to say: “He was asleep, he was drunk. Are you saying it’s right for him to be tasered?” Fuller repeated that he was “sympathetic” to the officers.
“I’m sympathetic to police who had to do something with him,” he said.
“The other option is this – you put a baton under each of his arms, you squeeze it down and you put him in the back of the truck, now that is no less painful than being sprayed.
“But nevertheless, to get him up and to get him out of that public place, is that police have to go hands on. I’m certainly sympathetic, because we couldn’t leave him there, because if we did and he went on and committed more crimes, the police are liable.
“He had to come with us.”
Despite the charges being dropped, Scott still received a $15,000 suspended fine from the NRL for bringing the game into disrepute over the incident. The game’s chairman, Peter V’landys, labelled the arrest “very disturbing”.
“What happened to him shouldn’t happen to any citizen,” he said at the time.
Under police guidelines in NSW, a taser should only be discharged to protect human life, prevent actual bodily harm, or during a violent confrontation, but officers have previously been criticised for using them as a compliance tool.
In 2012, the NSW coroner released a damning report into taser use after Brazilian student Roberto Laudisio-Curti died after being tasered 14 times during a psychotic episode.