Note: This story was updated with video footage at 10pm on 5 March. Our follow-up story looks at reactions to the footage – read it here.
Information about two incidents of alleged police brutality have emerged from Oxford Street on Saturday night, a short time after this year’s Sydney Mardi Gras Parade ended.
Leading gay activist Bryn Hutchinson has alleged that he was kicked and stomped on after he attempted to cross the road. A number of witnesses have backed up his story, while Sydney MP Alex Greenwich says he is aware of the alleged police assault and will be following it up.
An extra 1,000 police were stationed in the CBD for the night’s festivities, with many of the officers called from outer suburban and regional commands.
Same Same has also been contacted by witnesses to another alleged police assault in the same vicinity on the night, with claims that a young Mardi Gras attendee was punched and left bleeding after his head was smashed against concrete after he had already been handcuffed by police officers.
A witness at the scene with her two teenaged sisters says the violent actions of the officers involved left her younger siblings seriously traumatised.
“They were crying while the police bashed the boy’s head into the cement,” she said. “It was horrible, disgusting behaviour.”
Another witness adds: “They picked him up by the throat and slammed him into the ground with his head hitting the ground that hard it sounded like a bowling ball hitting the ground,” she said. “This was while he was in handcuffs.”
WARNING: This video contains graphic images of physical violence. Viewer discretion is advised.
Meanwhile, Bryn Hutchinson (pictured below), who until last month was co-convener for Community Action Against Homophobia – the group that organises and holds large regular marriage equality rallies in central Sydney – has told Same Same that about 11.25pm on Saturday he was unexpectedly set upon by up to five police officers from Parramatta Local Command as he crossed the Oxford Street near the intersection of Crown Street.
Hutchinson, 32, was with his partner, his sister and her friend when they decided to leave a Taylor Square hotel just after 11pm. Hutchinson, who is soon to commence studies for his PhD at the University of Sydney in the field of Bioethics, says he was not drunk or disorderly, or offensive or rude in any way, when the incident occurred.
“I had a few drinks but I certainly didn’t break the law,” he said.
“I had begun crossing the road and was just about at the middle when a police officer approached me and told me not to cross the road.
“Usually Oxford Street is open to foot traffic at that stage of the Parade. There was no signage or barriers, no marking tape.”
“I was hogtied and then they pushed my face into the concrete.”
The Mardi Gras Parade info page states: “Once crossing points are closed, you will not be able to cross the parade route until the parade ends at approximately 10:30pm.”
Hutchinson, who stands at 169cm and weighs only 65 kgs, said after a brief conversation with the police officer during which he said he was simply crossing the road he decided to continue to the other side.
“I can’t remember if he said anything more, but basically it was a verbal interchange and there was no physical contact. Then I was grabbed from behind by several police officers and then thrown onto the ground on my back. Then another police officer was leaning over me and threatening to charge me. I don’t know what he wanted to charge me with. I just kept saying I wanted to simply cross the road.
“They then turned me onto my front and pressed my face into the road, held me tightly by putting my arms behind my back and then folded my legs up. That’s when a number of police officers kicked me. There was approximately three. I couldn’t see them all but witnesses have told me since that there was up to five of them.
“I was hogtied and then they pushed my face into the concrete,” he adds.
“They were applying weight onto my back and I couldn’t breathe properly. I said I can’t breathe properly, and one of the officers said, ‘If you can talk, you can breathe’. I wasn’t resisting any sort of police intervention but I was really struggling to breathe. They didn’t stop applying the pressure and they had also kicked me.”
“I was still face down on the road when they handcuffed me,” he continues. “They put the cuffs on too tight, and have caused my wrists and hands to swell up and bruise. I screamed out, ‘You have the cuffs on too hard’. I also shouted very loudly, ‘What are you charging me with?’ Basically to get attention from the crowd as I was being beaten up by police.”
Hutchinson was then pulled up and pushed to a waiting police vehicle near the Colombian Hotel before being transported to Surry Hills Police Station where he was charged with assaulting police while in the back of the police wagon.
“They asked me for my ID and wallet which I didn’t have, but they confiscated my phone,” he claims. “I kept asking them what they are charging me with, and then one of the officers, Sergeant Ludlin from Parramatta Police, said he was charging me with assaulting police. He said, ‘You put your leg around me, don’t you remember that?’
“I don’t have any memory of putting my legs around any officers but if I did I would imagine it was a reflex when the others were pushing me back. He was in front of me. I would like to see some footage of the incident.
“It was excessive force. If they are charging me with assault police I find it bizarre they didn’t charge me with failure to comply with police directions or resisting arrest. I think they decided to charge me as they realised they had taken things too far by kicking me and are maybe trying to intimidate me.”
An onlooker, Tim Mayers, who contacted Same Same about the incident, said that while the confrontation didn’t seem to be homophobic in nature, the police reaction certainly seemed brutal and unnecessary.
“This didn’t seem like a gay bashing, but it was because the guy wasn’t cooperating with police they used force … and then it was out of control,” he said.
“I definitely 100 per cent saw the kick and stomp. Everyone sort of gasped.”
Another witness who contacted Same Same but did not wish to be named said at first she assumed police were simply helping a drunk person get across the road.
“I thought he was drunk, but I was making an assumption as it appeared that his weight was being held by the two officers on each of his arms. I looked away and when I looked back I saw four to five cops seemingly pinning him down on the road. I just assumed he had started hitting them but still thought that it was a bit excessive to have that many cops for one guy,” the witness said.
“Then I saw the man had his leg wrapped around one of the cop’s legs and wouldn’t let go so the cop hit or punched the guy’s leg a couple times before stomping his own foot on the ground in an attempt to get the guy to let go. Then one of the other cops did something that made the guy let go. Then all I could see was this huddle of cops around or over the guy who was still on the ground. They still seemed to be pinning him down.
“It was horrible, disgusting behaviour.”
“I can’t say I saw the cops bashing the guy apart from the hits to the leg but I did think that four or more cops for one guy – even if he was drunk and violent or not – seemed a bit excessive.”
Same Same has been informed by both the Colombian Hotel and the City of Sydney that their CCTV cameras did not capture the incident as they were trained either at the footpath or at the wrong angle.
“Our security team have reviewed the footage and can not see any incident on our cameras,” a City of Sydney spokesperson said.
“The City’s CCTV cameras are not designed to monitor road traffic as they are more focused on the footpaths.”
Sydney Independent MP Alex Greenwich adds that he has also been informed of other incidents allegedly involving police on the night, including revellers who were forced to undergo total strip searches at the Mardi Gras after-party at the Entertainment Quarter. Police ended up charging 96 people with drug possession after the Drug Dog Squad and officers from Surry Hills Police searched about 200 people at the event.
“The situation involving Bryn as described to me is very concerning and I will be looking into this further,” he says.
“I have known Bryn for a number of years and he is a person who has always been diplomatic and worked co-operatively with police in his role with Community Action Against Homophobia putting on regular marriage equality rallies for the past few years.”
Surry Hills Police Commander Anthony Crandell tells Same Same he’ll be attempting to gain CCTV recordings and other footage of the incident to verify exactly what occurred when Hutchinson attempted to cross Oxford Street.
“I am aware of this matter and we are treating it very seriously,” he said. “As it is before the courts, I am precluded from giving too much information at this stage, but I will definitely be attempting to ascertain all the facts around this incident.”
Are you a witness? We welcome further information via email – Matt@team.samesame.com.au.
You can also contact ACON’s Anti-Violence Project on (02) 9206 2116 or Freecall 1800 063 060.
If anything in this story has triggered negative feelings or you just want to talk to someone about it, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.