Fijian soldiers with Royal Regiment of Scotland allegedly punched off-duty police officer after racist abuse

Six soldiers from the Royal Regiment of Scotland who had travelled to the United States on a rugby tour that included a friendly match against a New York police team have been charged with assault after they allegedly punched an off-duty police officer to the floor in a pub brawl.

The New York police department (NYPD) said that the rugby match had been cancelled due to a "player shortage". The six, all of whom are from Fiji but are based with the regiment in Edinburgh, have been released from detention in Rikers Island prison, the NYPD said, though they still face prosecution and possible discharge from the army if their actions are deemed to merit disciplinary action.

Following the incident, in the early hours of Friday in the 17th precinct of Manhattan, the six soldiers were arrested and brought before a judge. Lance Corporal Iosefo Yavala, 33, was charged with robbery and assault after he was allegedly found in the possession of the police officer's mobile phone.

The remaining five – Private Iliakini Raderua, 30; Corporal Thomas Shute, 34; Private Felite Vunisarati, 34; Private Mosese Kuruala, 27; and Lance Corporal Joeli Raduva, 34 – were all charged with assault.

The Daily Record said that Raduva had been commended for his bravery in the Territorial Army in 2011.

The fight happened outside the Mercury Bar, a sports bar on 3rd Avenue on the east side of Manhattan. The NYPD said that "three to four" of the soldiers were involved in the brawl, which started after the off-duty police officer in plain clothes and his friend began talking to a woman attached to the British group.

One of the soldiers is alleged to have taken the officer's phone as the policeman tried to call 911 to report the assault. As the brawl continued, a Manhattan court heard, the NYPD officer pulled out a knife and slashed one of the soldiers.

The soldiers claimed through their legal representatives in court that the police officer inflamed the situation by calling one of them a "black bastard". When the NYPD officer identified himself as police, one of the six is alleged to have replied: "We don't care. Fuck the police."

In addition to the NYPD fixture, the men had been scheduled to take on the Mystic River rugby club in Boston. The Manhattan district attorney will now consider whether to press ahead with the charges.

The six are also now likely to face an investigation by the Ministry of Defence as to whether they should be internally disciplined. "All those who are found to fall short of the army's high standards will face disciplinary action, up to and including discharge, if appropriate," the MoD said in a statement.

© Guardian News and Media 2013

[Image via Agence France-Presse]