Jason Suttie Speaks up About Robbery Acquittal Case
A world champion Thai kickboxer six times over, Jason Suttie's name and reputation as one of New Zealand's best-ever fighters precedes him. Now a well-known and respected trainer at his ETK Gym, as well as one of NZ's top Thai kickboxing fight promoters, Suttie has spent the past 15 months under the dark cloud of serious accusations. Charged with aggravated robbery and blackmail by a fellow kickboxer, Suttie and three others were finally acquitted of all charges on Friday, August 6, 2010, after a week-long trial at the High Court in Auckland. Taking just under two hours to deliberate on the matter, a jury of their peers acquitted all four men, ending more than a year of restrictions and costly suspense for the defendants.
From the time the charges were laid, and up until the recent acquittal, rumours have been winging their way from quiet places of private conversation to the busy and bright public landscape of social media sites. What actually happened? Who did what, and when? Why did it happen at all? How has it affected them, and how has it affected the Thai kickboxing scene?
"To quell all rumours surrounding the issue, I want the fight community to know what happened," Suttie says. "To cut a long story short - I stepped in to help settle a dispute over an unpaid debt between two people I regarded as friends. Unbeknown to me, one of them had an ulterior motive for me being involved, and the good deed quickly backfired."
A meeting was called by the complainant on March 26, 2009, to resolve the issue, and proceeded without incident. However, according to the complainant, he was then "beaten up by three people, robbed, and told to leave town," Suttie says about the charges that were levelled against him.
"He went to the police with his story. The police [apparently] didn't follow proper protocol in not conducting an immediate investigation - and a month later, based only on the story told by the complainant, we were charged with aggravated robbery and blackmail: all four of us. Fifteen months later we had a one-week trial in the High Court."
At the end of the High Court trial, the jury took less than two hours to find all four defendants not guilty: a unanimous decision. During a week of questions, stories and cross-examinations it was revealed that there was "no physical or direct evidence for this aggravated robbery and blackmail," and that the prosecution's case was "totally reliant on everything [the complainant] said," says the ETK Thai boxing trainer. Inconsistencies in the complainant's story, which led to the acquittal, included claims that he had received "a really bad beating." According to medical and police reports though, there was no need to see a doctor, there were no marks on him, and no medical attention of any kind was required. "If it was a jury of kickboxers - who are experienced in combat injuries - they would have found us not guilty straight away," says Suttie with bemusement, " because the hiding he said he got went on for twenty to thirty minutes, by four guys. And not a single mark?"
Suttie believes the motive for the charges was entirely selfish, and was related to a previous unrelated case against the complainant. Whether this was the motive for the case or not, Suttie is certain that the complainant wasn't obliged to pay anywhere near the life savings that the ETK owner/trainer lost on legal fees to clear his name.
It's not just about the money though. Running one of NZ's most popular and respected Thai boxing gyms requires a certain amount of kudos, and being charged with aggravated robbery and blackmail is bound to effect people's perception. "I was mainly worried about my kids classes, and the parents," says Suttie, shaking his head, "it's not a good thing to have hanging over your head, and you're certainly not going to get sponsors while it's going on. It definitely wasn't good for my business." A tight curfew for the first two months, followed by travel restrictions on the promoter, didn't help things either. Travel to overseas Thai boxing shows being an important part of the trainer/promoter's business, it was particularly prohibitive having to pay around a thousand dollars each time he travelled. "I had to apply to a lawyer, who would apply to the police, and get a letter from promoters stating that I was visiting for kickboxing - that was the only way I was allowed to leave the country," he explains with a pained look. The other three defendants had their passports confiscated for the duration of the 15 months.
Personal grievances aside, Suttie believes the whole business "gives a bad name" to a NZ sport that "people already think of as a thug sport."
"I initially got involved in the dispute because I thought it wasn't a good look for kickboxers. After a year of this drama though, I just want to forget about it all and get on with my life. I won't be stepping in to help ever again. Last time I did, I ended up in the High Court. He betrayed my trust, and put myself, my friends and my family through hell. I have learnt a hard lesson from this experience."