News People Victoria Police officers found guilty of assault on disability pensioner

Victoria Police officers found guilty of assault on disability pensioner

victoria police assault disability
John was withdrawing from drugs and his doctor had concerns about his health. Photo: ABC
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Three police officers who were captured on CCTV bashing a man outside his Melbourne home when they went to do a welfare check in September 2017, have been found guilty of assault.

The Heidelberg Magistrates Court has heard the man, known as John, has subsequently been diagnosed with PTSD and is still haunted by the attack.

“They treated me like a dog at the weakest moment of my life,” he said in a statement read to Magistrate Cathy Lamble.

Officers John Edney, 30, Florian Hilgart, 42, and Brad McLeod, 35, were with three other colleagues who responded to a call to conduct a welfare check at the man’s Preston home on September 19, 2017.

John’s treating psychologist had called 000 concerned that he was going “cold-turkey”, withdrawing from opioid addiction and was vomiting blood.

His doctor indicated he “needed to be treated with kid gloves”, the court was told.

The officers arrived at 5.50pm to ensure that ambulance officers could safely assess his physical and mental state.

The court was told John – who was 36 at the time – was behaving in an “unruly, aggressive, threatening and erratic way” when they tried to get him to open his door.

After he refused to let them in, they dragged him to the front door.

The bashing was recorded on two CCTV cameras at the home.

Officers had no plan for dealing with John, court told

Officer Brad McLeod is seen using capsicum spray at close range and later videoing another officer, Florian Hilgart, spraying water on the man’s face.

The footage shows officer John Edney striking John with a baton, and stepping on his head.

Magistrate Lamble noted that despite the officers’ claims to have been concerned John would carry out a “suicide by cop” – forcing them to shoot him – they had made no plans on how to deal with him if he did not comply with their orders.

She said they relied on their numbers to get him to comply.

The court was told the most junior officer was sent in first to deal with the man.

McLeod’s own testimony and his diary notes indicated John was not usually aggressive and was “mostly just talk”, Magistrate Lamble said.

Magistrate relied on CCTV footage in making decision

While she determined that John was “not a credible or reliable witness”, she relied on the CCTV footage that contradicted much of what the officers told the court during earlier hearings.

“I’m still haunted by their giggles,” John said via a victim statement read to the court.

“This is a day that will haunt me for the rest of my life.”

John acknowledged his struggles with mental health and his addiction to prescription drugs since he suffered a back injury when he was hit by a drunk driver.

“I’m a human being. I deserve dignity and humanity,” he said.

Officers convicted of punching, using pepper spray and baton

Brad McLeod was found guilty of three counts of unlawful assault by punching John in the stomach, pepper-spraying him at close range, and encouraging officer Hilgart to use the hose against him for a third time in order to video it.

Senior Constable McLeod was “acting in a way hostile to the welfare” of John, who was “wretched and miserable but able to communicate”, Magistrate Lamble said as she read her verdict to the court.

John Edney was found guilty of assault with a weapon when he used his police-issued baton to strike John’s legs six times unnecessarily.

He was also found guilty of assault when he stepped on John’s head, again without reason.

Florian Hilgart was found guilty of assault for spraying John in the face with a high pressure hose while McLeod filmed him.

The men are appearing via videolink.

Edney’s lawyer told the court his client was a junior officer at the time, and had made an error of judgment, pointing out he had in fact assisted John after the attack.

He urged the magistrate not to record a conviction in the hopes he could remain an officer with Victoria Police.

The hearing is continuing.