Two police officers found guilty of assaulting a disability pensioner outside his home during a welfare check maintain they were involved in a lawful arrest.
Senior constables Brad McLeod, John Edney and Florian Hilgart were last year found guilty by a magistrate of a combined six charges over their use of force against the pensioner, John, outside his Preston home on September 19, 2017.
Police officers Florian Hilgart (left), John Edney and Brad McLeod outside court in 2019.Credit:Eddie Jim
The trio and three other officers went to John’s home after his psychologist called triple zero over concerns about his health. The officers ended up dragging John to the ground when he came outside.
On Monday, one of the other officers, acting Sergeant Stephen Little, told the County Court he and his colleagues had concerns John wanted to “suicide by cop” and was prepared to threaten or attack the officers to provoke them to shoot him.
“As soon as he opened the door … that’s when I considered straight away that I might have to go hands-on with this person,” acting Sergeant Little said.
An image from CCTV showing police restraining John outside his Preston home in 2017.
Lawyers for the two officers said on Monday their use of force was justified and proportionate.
Rahmin de Kretser said Senior Constable McLeod acted in self-defence and defence of his colleagues in subduing John, and argued “he had lawful justification for carrying out his actions”.
Senior Constable McLeod is appealing against guilty findings on three charges of unlawful assault, over the use of capsicum spray, for punching John in the stomach and directing Senior Constable Hilgart to use the hose.
Mr de Kretser said there was a factual dispute over the first two charges, and argued using the hose was lawful.
Senior Constable Hilgart was found guilty of unlawful assault over the use of the hose a third time. His lawyer, Malcolm Thomas, said the officer’s actions were appropriate.
In CCTV footage played to the court, John refuses police requests to leave his house, is verbally aggressive, yells at officers to “f— off” and talks about police shooting him.
Acting Sergeant Little said that when John eventually came outside, he appeared to be “swiping” with his hands at Senior Constable McLeod, in either an attempt to hit the officer or knock the capsicum spray away.
Asked if it was necessary to take John to the ground to nullify him, acting Sergeant Little said: “Yes, that’s correct.”
He said the incident was a “very dynamic situation” and he considered John posed a “suicide by cop” threat.
In an audio recording, John’s psychologist told a triple-zero operator she was worried about his mental health and that he had told her he was vomiting blood. But she also admitted she was worried about what would happen if police attended, given John had spoken about getting officers “to take him out”.
“I am feeling very worried now,” the psychologist told the operator.
“Because he didn’t want me do this [call help]. I don’t want this to end badly for him.”
In a recording of police communication before the officers arrived at John’s house, one – believed to be Senior Constable McLeod – says he had previous dealings with the pensioner and he was “generally just talk”.
Acting Sergeant Little said capsicum spray had the potential to affect people’s eyesight and cause severe pain and breathing difficulties, and water was needed to wash it off skin.
The appeal continues before judge Claire Quin.
The three officers remain suspended from work duties.
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