More people involved in an incident where police pepper-sprayed a group of partygoers in Darwin have come forward to criticise the actions of officers, as the NT Ombudsman and NT Police investigate.
Mali Page yesterday told the ABC she was outside Opium nightclub on Darwin’s nightclub strip Mitchell Street on Sunday morning when police officers indiscriminately sprayed a group of peopleto break up a nearby argument she had nothing to do with.
Another bystander, who wanted to remain anonymous, said she had just walked out of the venue when an argument started between her friend and an unknown man.
“Next minute I’m getting sprayed in the back by pepper spray,” the woman said.
“I took off down the road. That’s when I started to go blind. People started to come out with milk and pour it in my eyes because I couldn’t see anything. I heard my girlfriend screaming on the ground.”
She said the response from police was appalling.
“The police should’ve just come over like they usually do and break it up but there was no warning whatsoever about the capsicum spray.”
She said some unknown men were trying to coax her friend into a taxi.
“She had no idea. She was still crying and screaming in pain,” she said.
“These guys kept on coming back, probably about three times, calling out to my friend.”
Police Union backs officers’ actions
Another witness to the incident said they were disappointed with police actions and that taxi drivers were reluctant to pick up patrons from outside the club.
NT Police said it had received complaints about the use of capsicum spray and that they would be assessed in conjunction with the ombudsman.
The NT Police Association said capsicum spray is a tactical option for officers although they do not like having to use it.
“They’re in volatile situations. That particular incident was late at night in one of the busiest streets in the Territory,” said Association president Paul McCue.
“It would take a serious incident generally for spray to be deployed.”
Mr McCue said he was confident that the police officers acted appropriately.
“We don’t know the particular circumstances around it, what I do know is police have a tough job and they obviously take each particular situation on its merit,” he said.
“Decisions have to be made in a split second and obviously that was the decision at that time.”
Attorney-General Natasha Fyles said she spoke to Ms Page’s father following the incident.
“I understand that incident is now under investigation so I don’t want to provide comment that may impact on that,” Ms Fyles said.
“But it was certainly distressing talking to the family involved and I would await the reviews and incident reviews that are taking place with any recommendations.”
NT Police Duty Superintendent James O’Brien said public safety was always a concern for police when responding to incidents and that officers are trained in use-of-force options, including pepper spray.
“If any police officer is in a situation where they believe the safety of other members of the public is in danger, that may be a tool that they use,” Mr O’Brien said.