Police officer defends actions in arrest of disability pensioner

A police officer found to have encouraged a colleague to spray a hose in the face of a handcuffed man has told a court he intended to film the incident for “evidentiary purposes” rather than for his own amusement.

Senior constables Brad McLeod and Florian Hilgart are appealing against guilty findings made by a magistrate in a combined four charges of unlawful assault over their use of force against the pensioner, John, outside his home in Preston on September 19, 2017.

Police officers restrain John outside his Preston home on September 19, 2017.

Senior Constable McLeod was found to have unlawfully punched John in the stomach and used capsicum spray while the pensioner was on the ground, and encouraged his colleague to spray a hose in the man’s face. Senior Constable Hilgart’s use of the hose, while John was seated on the ground handcuffed, was also found to be unlawful.

Senior Constable McLeod told the County Court on Friday he took out his mobile phone to film his colleague with the hose to keep a record that John had capsicum spray washed from him as after-arrest care, given water is needed to flush the substance from a person’s skin and eyes.

The officer rejected any suggestion his use of the phone was inappropriate. “I disagree entirely,” he said.

He said he never captured any footage as the recording didn’t work. He said it was unnecessary to ask Senior Constable Hilgart to use the hose again as he heard his colleague tell John the capsicum spray was washed off.

Police officers Florian Hilgart (left), John Edney and Brad McLeod outside court in 2019.Credit:Eddie Jim

Six officers attended John’s home after his psychologist contacted triple zero out of concern for his health. The police say they restrained John as he was verbally aggressive and swung his arms when he emerged from his house.

Senior Constable McLeod told the appeal he needed to restrain John as the police officer was concerned he or his colleagues might be injured, that the pensioner would continue resisting arrest or might reach for an officer’s gun. He said he punched John in the arm, not the stomach.

CCTV cameras captured Senior Constable McLeod swearing at John and saying of the capsicum spray, “smells good, doesn’t it?”

He apologised to the court for his “poor choice of words” but said he wanted to distract John from thrashing on the ground.

The officer said his actions were “reasonable and necessary in the circumstances” and denied he lost his cool.

“I disagree entirely,” he said.

Three of the six officers were charged and found guilty of unlawful assault.

Magistrate Cathy Lamble last year found senior constables McLeod, Hilgart and John Edney guilty of a combined six charges and put them on good behaviour bonds, without conviction, and ordered they pay a combined $5500 to the court fund. Senior Constable Edney chose not to appeal his guilty finding.

The appeal continues before judge Claire Quin.

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