Sandwich board activist Danny Lim was captured on video crying out for help as three police officers tried to arrest the 74-year-old over a sign he was holding.
The dramatic footage was played on Wednesday in Downing Centre Local Court, where Sydney man Mr Lim is challenging a $500 fine for offensive behaviour.
It shows onlookers gathering around the former local councillor in Barangaroo on January 11 and asking why he was being arrested.
When told it was for holding an offensive sign, the crowd can be heard in the footage telling police their actions were ‘ridiculous’ and ‘disgusting’.
Mr Lim’s sign read: ‘SMILE C**T! WHY C**T?’
Police handed him a $500 fine and charged him.
Only one person, a woman who worked in the area, called police to say she was offended by the sign, the court heard.
Body cam footage of the arrest captures officers telling the large crowd ‘a number of complaints’ had been made about the sign. One officer can be heard calling bystanders ‘pathetic’ and ‘social justice warriors’.
Civilian video of the arrest was posted on social media, with one clip on Facebook getting 1.3 million views – sparking a protest from hundreds of Mr Lim’s supporters outside a Sydney police station two days later.
Arresting officer Detective Sergeant Constable Tufan Salman on Wednesday said he thought the sign contained the ‘c’ word and believed it to be offensive.
‘I can’t even say it,’ he told the court, but agreed he had labelled it a ‘play on words’ on the day.
Mr Lim’s lawyer Bryan Wrench showed the detective a photo of a sign for popular fashion label FCUK and asked whether he was familiar with it.
The detective said he wasn’t.
‘It could be like a foreign word,’ he said.
Mr Wrench said his client was not offensive.
Mr Lim, caught in the footage struggling for breath and sitting on the ground in handcuffs, had attempted to explain to police that he believed the sign was not offensive, following a previous court case.
In August 2017, a NSW District Court judge overturned an earlier conviction of Mr Lim’s as well as a $500 fine after finding a sign worn in 2015 mocking then-prime minister Tony Abbott was poor taste but unlikely to offend the average Australian.
Using an inverted A in the word ‘can’t’, those signs said: ‘TONY YOU CAN’T. LIAR, HEARTLESS, CRUEL’ and ‘TONY YOU CAN’T SCREW EDUCATION.’