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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Footbrawlers Get Away With Pub Assault

In a disgusting breach of community decency, three violent professional footballers avoided any serious sanction for their role in a St Kilda pub brawl. Sadly, such jaw-dropping leniency is all too familiar to the citizens of Melbourne, enduring a state of permanent siege under the swaggering AFL players who own this town. This ruling will only further reinforce the notion that, in Melbourne at least, footballers are beyond judicial rebuke.

This case centres around the events of the 2006 Grand Final Eve (28th of September), involving a number of past and present players from the Brisbane Lions and St Kilda. The players charged were Fraser Gehrig, Michael Voss, Steven Lawrence, while Craig McCrae and Craig Lambert escaped any charges at all.

We've been tracking this case closely, as shown by this time-line:

  • (2/10/2006) Initial reports emerged of the attack.

  • (6/6/2007) Detectives finally get around to interviewing the accused, some nine months late. (The possibility that they were waiting for the depths of a Melbourne winter before flying to sunny Brisbane is raised.)

  • (7/6/2007) Players are formally charged.

  • (13/7/2007) A trial is under way and security video footage of the parts of the assault are leaked to broadcasters (see below).

  • (30/8/2007) While the criminal trial is under way, a civil case (law suit) is launched by the victims.

We now come to the final series of criminal judgments against these three men. Let's recap the allegations against them on that fateful night in the Prince of Wales Hotel:

Jarrod Rouse, 27, said his girlfriend Jacqueline [Cameron] was subjected to lewd comments and gestures.

"They were being sleazy. We all said we didn't want any trouble," Mr Rouse said.

He said [Steven] Lawrence, who plays for Port Melbourne, made a threatening gesture with a pool cue as they sat at their table.

Mr Rouse, who admitted he was drunk, said Jacqueline then pushed the cue back at the former St Kilda player.

"It escalated from there. I was just there trying to protect my girl," he said.

Mr Rouse said fighting broke out, during which he wrestled with [Fraser] Gehrig and was struck by others.

Jacqueline said: "There were four or five people kicking my boyfriend."

Mr Rouse's friend Jules [Julius Smith] said he was punched and knocked out after the violence spilled outside.

Jules said he remembered little after the initial angry words.

"I remember the bloke putting the the pool cue in Jacqueline's face. I must have been king-hit pretty soon after that. I was out cold," he said.

Mr Rouse said he had spoken to police. (The Herald-Sun, 29/9/2006)


Other sources:

"I found myself on the ground being attacked, being stomped, being kicked," [Rouse] told Ten News. (The Australian, 29/9/2006)


And this:

Ms Cameron told Channel 7 News last night ... "I pushed it back onto him. They pulled down my dress at some point. They pulled the button off Jarrod's pants and tried to pull his pants down," Ms Cameron said. (The Age, 29/9/2006)


It seems like a pretty standard Melbourne night spot scenario: a group of cocky AFL players spend all day drinking. For sport, they harass a local young woman, because, well, because they can. Usually, Melburnians just have to suck it up. In this instance, the girlfriend responds and the boyfriend's been drinking. Both seem not to understand the rules. Pushing and shoving breaks out and the footballers, by virtue of their propensity to fight in numbers, attack women, king hit, kick people on the ground and generally act atrociously, soundly beat various people up.

Thanks to the magic of YouTube, we can see some of this behaviour in full-flight. Check out the security footage. I, for one, never get sick of seeing a 100 kg millionaire push a slight young woman to the ground. What a champion:



A disgusting display of cowardice and ugliness. Thankfully, a few guilty pleas might see some convictions finally get recorded against this pack of hate-filled morons, right? Might send a powerful signal that they're bound by the same law as everyone else, and their size and money means naught. Right?

There's a reason why the Melbourne Magistrates Court has an AFL division. It's not just to handle the huge workloads resulting from the league. Here's how Deputy Chief Magistrate Paul Smith doled out justice in this instance:

Michael Voss and Simon Black


Both escaped conviction despite pleading guilty to assault charges, and were put into a "diversion" program. They also have to do some volunteer work with arbias, a group that deals with "alcohol-related brain injury". (An area with which these two knobs have direct experience.)


Simon Black (right) and Michael Voss (left) Escape Conviction for Brawl
Source: The Age


Black, 28, acted during "10 seconds of madness" when he kicked a bar patron, while Voss, 32, played a lesser role in the violent altercation, Melbourne Magistrates' Court heard.

...

Both Brisbane premiership players had been charged with one count of unlawful assault while a count of recklessly causing injury against Black was withdrawn.

...

The fight continued in the street outside where Voss, who says he was kicked, struck [Jarrod] Rouse with an open hand. Black kicked Rouse as he lay on the ground wrestling with Voss.

Mr Smith immediately agreed to put Voss through the diversion program, but asked for submissions from Black's lawyer, saying his role was more significant.

...

"He is regarded as a leading light so far as the Brisbane Lions Football Club is concerned," [Defence lawyer Michael Bosscher] said.

Mr Smith agreed to put Black on diversion. (Herald-Sun, 3/10/2007)


Staggering, isn't it? Let's see how the others fared.

Fraser Gehrig


Gehrig also pleaded guilty to his assault-related charges and applied for this same "diversionary program" as his co-accused:


Fraser Gehrig Escapes Conviction for Brawl
Source: Herald-Sun


Gehrig faced one count each on charges of unlawful assault and common assault.

Police today withdrew the more serious charge of unlawful assault before Mr Smith granted Gehrig's application.

...

"It looks to me that the assault relates to Jacqueline Cameron. Mr Rouse's girlfriend struck Mr Gehrig and struck [him] in the back.

"[Gehrig] then pushed her to the upper body with both hands and that caused her to fall to the ground."

Gehrig's lawyer, Marita Altman, told Mr Smith her client had instinctively pushed Ms Cameron after being assaulted from behind.

"He shouldn't have pushed her at all," Mr Smith said. He then asked Gehrig whether he took responsibility for the assault on Ms Cameron, to which Gehrig replied: "Yes".

...

In granting Gehrig's application, Mr Smith said two significant things in the case had changed.

"The first is Mr Gehrig faces a charge of common assault and a second, his codefendants [Voss and Black], who both played a greater role in the melee, have both been diverted."

Given that Voss and Black played a greater role, it would be unfair to impose a harsher penalty on Gehrig, Mr Smith said.

He described Gehrig as "a man of good character" and the assault as "a push only". (The Age, 4/10/2007)


Did you get that? It was "only" a push. Besides, the magistrate's earlier leniency (err, "judicial mercy"?) sort of forced him into a corner in this instance. He had to divert him too, otherwise it wouldn't be fair (to him).

So, Gehrig stone-cold got away with his part in the attack. Surely, then, Steven Lawrence will cop it in the neck?

Steven Lawrence


No conviction, no diversion and a $5,000 fine (less than a week's wages for the average AFL player):


Steven Lawrence Escapes Conviction for Brawl
Source: The Age


Lawrence, 31, of South Melbourne, pleaded guilty in Melbourne Magistrates' Court to one charge of intentionally causing injury over the incident at the Prince of Wales Hotel in St Kilda on September 29 last year.

Lawrence had been with a group of friends and fellow AFL players, including Brownlow medallists Michael Voss and Simon Black and St Kilda spearhead Fraser Gehrig, when the fight erupted.

The court heard Lawrence placed his hand on the victim, Julius Smith, then swung his fist at his head, causing him to fall to the ground unconscious.

Lawrence left the scene and refused to comment when shown footage of the incident during a police interview, the court was told.

...

[Lawrence's lawyer, Ian Hill QC] also argued a conviction could hinder his career prospects in property development.

While Magistrate Paul Smith said the incident was serious, he noted Lawrence's clean record, supportive character references and the fact a conviction could harm him professionally.

"Despite the fact this is a very serious offence, you've never done anything before or since," Mr Smith said.

He imposed a fine of $5,000 but said no conviction would be recorded. (The Age, 30/10/2007)


Geez. Like we need a property developer with a penchant for biffo!

So, these three hulking bullies kicked off a major brawl in a popular Melbourne pub by harassing a young woman, plead guilty, it's caught on tape and yet all escape conviction. A slap on the wrist and only minor inconvenience. Is anyone going to suffer sanction for this? You bet:

Jarrod Rouse


Yep, the victims. The one bloke without a top-flight expensive lawyer, huge fame and the resources of a media juggernaut like an AFL club backing him:

Last week Jarrod Rouse, 29, of Box Hill, was convicted and fined $2800 after pleading guilty to recklessly engaging in conduct that put others in danger of serious injury. (SMH, 2/10/2007)


No diversion program for you, son. Plus, an ordinary bloke from Box Hill will find it a lot tougher paying that fine than yet another footballer-cum-property developer. What a black day for justice in this city.

How can it happen? Clearly, this was not a jury trial. It was a lone experienced magistrate making a call on the evidence put before him. Before jumping to conclusions, let's review the sentencing history of Magistrate Paul Smith in regard to footballers. A brief search on Google turned up the following cases:

  • (2006) Carlton's Heath Scotland strikes a young woman in the toilets at a nightclub. Magistrate Smith directs Scotland into the "diversionary program" without conviction on the grounds that (sounds familiar?) a conviction might harm his chances of becoming a fireman. Scotland later faces allegations of striking another woman outside a pub in Ballarat.

  • (2006) Hawthorn's Campbell Brown put into "diversionary program" by Magistrate Smith following some unpleasantness at a 7-Eleven.

  • (2004) Former Collingwood footballer Des Tuddenham blows .133 (his third such offence) and causes a traffic accident. Magistrate Smith suspends the jail sentence.

  • (2002) Former Collingwood premiership ruckman Damian Monkhorst has escaped conviction for assaulting a 14 year-old boy at his country footy club - despite a guilty plea. Magistrate Smith was in the box seat.


These are all the cases I could find. Maybe there are instances of Mr Smith convicting current or former AFL players, but they're just not showing up in search engines. Now, I'm sure Mr Smith has far less qualms about convicting bloggers for contempt of court or similar charges. Or launching his own defamation action against me. So I have to be careful and state clearly: I do not believe - nor do I assert - that his rulings in this case are different from what we could expect from any other judicial officer. For example, County Court Judge John Barnett is more than capable of seeing that a vicious public brawl initiated by footballers doesn't inconvenience them too much. Hell, this blog is littered with stories of footballers' wrongdoings and dozens of court cases.

I must admit though, my initial thoughts on seeing this outcome is "How can the courts be so far out of step with community standards? Surely, Melbourne's Establishment isn't so parochial as to blackball people from their posh dinner parties just because they convicted popular footballers?".

But then it dawned on me: these are our community standards. Big, rich, famous young men simply don't need to bear the consequences for their actions. Their future career options are preserved. Sentencing "parity" is maintained (with other privileged footballers mind you, not mug punters off the street). They pay piddly inconsequential (for them) fines. They do "community work" that furthers their public profile. They have expensive QCs arguing their case in the Magistrates Courts. Professional publicists and image advisers are on tap. They get every opportunity, second chance, benefit of the doubt and break going.

No wonder they presume to own every venue in Melbourne. They can act rudely, even criminally, and they know the system will see them well looked after.

Citations: The Herald-Sun, 29/9/2006; The Australian, 29/9/2006; The Age, 29/9/2006; Herald-Sun, 3/10/2007; The Age, 4/10/2007; The Age, 30/10/2007; SMH, 2/10/2007


Word Count: 2124


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Contribute         

5 Comments:

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  • Hehe, I don't condone what the players did but the truth and facts can be twisted to fit any story. It seems to me that the main arguement of this post is why did the Footballers escape conviction yet the poor "victim" got charged. Can I suggest that if you had of waited a day you would have seen these paragraphs from the Hun 31/10/2007:

    "Magistrate Ian McGrane punished Rouse, 28, from Box Hill, for throwing a billiard ball at Brisbane Lions assistant coach Craig Lambert after Lambert tossed beer on him.

    Rouse, who has previous convictions for assault and criminal damage, suffered a chipped tooth, facial bruising, a black eye, and a cut to his cheek.

    Rouse told police the fight erupted after two footballers in the group made unwelcome passes at his girlfriend, Jaclyn Cameron."

    Now I am not sure if the law has changed recently but I didn't think they changed it to say you can try to kill someone (which if you watch the video (I didn't this time but I am assuming its the same one showing Rowse piff a ball which could have killed someone had it hit). Now, again as the courts found, it is against the law to get upset and take actions into your own hands if someone tries to kill one of your friends.

    So back to why did Rowse get convicted and the Footballers not? My understanding is that they had better records and where able to take the "diversion" program option.

    If you ask me each person got what they deserved. Were you after jail time for the ex-players/Player? If so, would you care to tell me were you plan to build the extra 50 jails we will need and the extra 70 courts needed to deal with all the pub fights that happen each week?

    I have to admitt, this is one of your best one sided arguments ever! I dare you to amend the story to include the fact that "victim" was the one that piffed a pool ball at a persons head in the incident. Bet you won't as that would mean you would have to admitt that the footy players were just as much victims as Rowse.

    By Anonymous Phillip Molly Malone, at 8:19 am, October 31, 2007  

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  • Thanks, Molly. I can always count on you to put a shiny gloss on whatever outrage footballers get away with this week.

    The point of this article is that our community is soft on super-star celebrity footballers.

    Do you really think that if it were a brawl between Rouse and five other non-footballers it would have ended as one-sided as this? That their wealth, QCs, status, "character references" from other high-profile people etc didn't play a role?

    As for their absence of prior convictions - I'm not surprised! It's almost impossible for a footballer to get one in the first place. Worse, they keep using that fact to avoid any convictions. It's a vicious circle.

    Do you ever get out on the piss in the city, Molly? Do you have a wife, girlfriend or other female that you go out with? Do you think that you are both a) more safe or b) less safe from getting harassed by footballers as a result of this case?

    Arrogant drunken (drugged?) footballers now have a green light to pester, intimidate and threaten everyone. Not only will they win with their fists, they will win with their lawyers. And they know it.

    Welcome to Melbourne, where being in the top 650 footballers in the land is enough to make you a king.

    By Blogger Greg, at 12:40 pm, October 31, 2007  

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  • Greg, Greg, Greg! It seems you shouldn't be writing a blog about AFL Footballers but a Blog on Police/Court/Pollies and how your not happy with their handling of cases.

    Do I think the Ex Footballers (and one Footballer) partially got there decision based on having the money to spend on a lawyer, yes of course. Thats part of the legal system! If you don't like that, campaign to have only court appointed and paid for Lawyers so that everyone has the same chance for a good one and the same chance for a bad one! Even better, you should get the Communist party back up and running.

    Do I feel less safe going out with my wife after this? No.

    And I am not sure the shiny gloss I put on. I think they were dumb and you would hope they wouldn't get in a blue but there not the lone rangers (in getting in trouble in pubs) and they weren't the only parties in the wrong in this case.

    They shouldn't have disrespected the guys GF but to throw a Pool at there Head is pretty bad as well.

    Perhaps the answer is proabition. You want a hand trying to get that one up?

    Molly
    PS. The drug reference is pretty silly dude. If you keep throwing it out like that, it loses the message , and some times you actually make some good points on it

    By Anonymous Phillip Molly Malone, at 1:15 pm, October 31, 2007  

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  • Are you really suprised that the current/former Brisbane players got off scott free? The same lawyer defending them was also in charge of defending players involved in a rather unsavoury sexual assault allegation against Brisbane Lions players in London in 1999. They got off.

    One of the players, who went on to have yet another sexual assault charge put against him at the club he subsequently joined after getting off on the charge stemming from the London incident, allegedly payed hush money to an Adelaide woman who was the victim of assault by the ex-Lion and 2 other AFL players, one of whom is particuarly igh profile and had a much celebrated 250 game milestone in 2007.

    Just so I don't get myself or Greg in trouble I'll source this and I advise everyone read the following transcript from the ABC s 4 Corners TV programme in 2004:

    http://www.ausport.gov.au/fulltext/2004/abc/s1100551.asp

    be warned. A lot of the content is VERY disturbing. just goes to show what you can get away with if you have a decent lawyer prepared to defend you!

    By Anonymous Luke, at 5:34 pm, November 28, 2007  

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  • Thanks for the tip, Luke.

    This particular QC - Ian Hill - was also defending those shits in the recent anti-Semitic footballer pogrom case. Perhaps he specialises in defending footballers accused of bashing, raping and religious hatred?

    I'm sure it's very lucrative work. Plus, you'd get to meet a lot of important players. Would he even get invited into the dressing room? Probably. If he ensured half the team wasn't in jail, why not?

    Still, there's nothing like the satisfaction that comes with knowing that, at the end of the day, you and your kids don't have to drink in the same pubs as your clients.

    By Blogger Greg, at 12:47 pm, November 29, 2007  

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