Northern Exposure: How a brave NT cop came to the aid of two Melbourne police under attack in St Kilda
Lucas-John O’Donoghue left the small township of Kintore, 500km west of Alice Springs, and his work there as a local copper to see Eminem in concert in Melbourne.
But a different headline-making act would shape his weekend away and remind him that even on holiday, a police officer is never really off-duty.
The 26-year-old father of three touched down in Melbourne late in February, a day before the MCG concert, and met up with his brother and a group of friends from Tennant Creek.
The group caught up at a hotel in St Kilda and were trying to organise a ride home when their night took an unexpected turn.
“My brother wears a hearing aid and as we were walking, he lost his hearing aid in a garden bed, so we all started looking for it,” Lucas said.
On the other side of Fitzroy Street a commotion piqued Lucas’ interest and his policing instincts.
“I saw a police car pull up across the road from where we were and the officers got out and walked up to one of the clubs,” he said.
“That’s when the person who police were trying to arrest ran out onto the road and in front of us.”
Lucas’ instinct to get involved was tempered by his mates’ insistence that he shouldn’t.
“(They) were telling me not to get involved because they could tell by my body language that I was moving into a position where if he came towards me, I was going to do something.”
At that point the police appeared to have the situation in hand, outnumbering the offender two to one.
But that advantage was soon lost as a group of people, friends of the offender, approached and suddenly set upon the two officers with a savagery rarely seen in Victoria.
“As the police officer got to him in the middle of the road and was trying to arrest him, I could hear his friends making noise nearby … soon, four or five of these blokes came running out and that’s when everything lost control.”
Graphic amateur footage of the incident, which would lead news bulletins later that night, showed a man bash one of the officers’ head into the pavement six times before others joined in kicking, punching and spitting on the members as they struggled on the ground.
“There were 7-8 people around these officers … the police were trying to get off the ground and fight back.”
“I saw a bald man standing over one of the officers and I just thought at that moment the situation was turning bad … I was also thinking do I want to involve myself and potentially be another hindrance, because they might think I’m just another person from the group.”
Lucas could no longer ignore the potential danger his interstate colleagues were facing.
“It reached the point where one of the police officers wasn’t getting up and I thought well if he’s not getting up and someone tries to grab his gun or something else off his belt, it could turn really bad.”
“That’s when I just ran out and pretty much shirt fronted the bald man to get him away … I managed to push him far enough back to create a bit of space and I was just telling them all to leave it and move away.”
He then readied himself for a possible retaliation from those he was trying to disperse.
“For about ten seconds I thought I was about to get into a fight as well.”
Thankfully though, back up was arriving.
“I started seeing the flashing lights of police cars and I thought ‘thank God’ and the police members got a chance to get up.”
He too backed away from the scene and was walking back to his friends, when one of them noticed the original offender trying to flee and alerted Lucas.
“I jumped over a tram stop and saw that someone had tripped this guy over and restrained him by the legs, so I ran over to him and he was trying to fight the guy off, so I jumped on his back and grabbed his arms to hold him, before police arrived to take over.”
“The police were trying to pull me off the guy and then one of my friends told them that I was a cop, and they handcuffed the guy and arrested him.”
With the incident quickly gaining national prominence throughout the day via the shocking phone footage captured of the attack by a passing motorist, Lucas said he developed mixed feelings about his involvement in the incident.
“On one hand I did think about the fact that I have three young children at home and I had no equipment on me and I was in an unfamiliar place … but on the other hand, I was happy that I did step in and do something, so at least I could say that I tried to help.”
“I just knew that something needed to happen because if one of those people took one of the police officers’ guns, then there could have been a lot of damage caused.”
Several hours after the incident, Lucas was at the MCG watching what he had come to Melbourne to see, Eminem.
It turned out to be a relatively sedate end to a dramatic weekend.