Pensioner texted about being shot by police before arrest, appeal told

A disability pensioner who was pinned down and arrested by six police officers outside his home sent a text message before the confrontation that he would give police a reason to shoot him, a court has heard.

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 Preston home on September 19, 2017.

An image from CCTV showing police restraining John outside his Preston home in 2017.

A magistrate found that while John was on the ground being restrained he was struck on the leg with a baton, punched in the stomach, had his head stood on and had capsicum spray used on him from close range. While seated and handcuffed, he had water blasted in his face from a hose.

Senior constables McLeod and Hilgart maintain their use of force was appropriate and lawful.

Their appeal has heard the six officers at John’s home feared he would try to “suicide by cop” because he spoke about them shooting him, was verbally aggressive and came outside with his fists raised.

John told the County Court on Tuesday he was withdrawing from opioids at the time and that he was paranoid, delusional, irritable, depressed and despondent when police arrived to conduct a welfare check, but denied he was suicidal that day.

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

But John confirmed he sent a text message to his psychologist in the hours before police arrived that read: “I don’t want police or [a crisis assessment and treatment] team here this time. It’s win-win for me. If I see police and they don’t comply I’ll give them a reason to shoot me. Please let me do this my way. I want to be left alone.”

The psychologist contacted triple zero out of concern for John’s health.

Under questioning from Senior Constable McLeod’s lawyer, Rahmin de Kretser, John said he was not a violent person, and did not accept he was aggressive when police attended his home.

“No, I was vulnerable and weak and wanted to be left alone,” he said.

The court heard John previously pleaded guilty to road-rage assaults and making false statements about his work history, had been aggressive towards ambulance paramedics and hospital workers and previously threatened to self-harm or kill himself in the presence of police and paramedics.

“I’ve said and done a lot of stupid things while under the influence,” he told the court.

Senior Constable McLeod is appealing against guilty findings on three charges, over the use of capsicum spray, for punching John in the stomach and directing Senior Constable Hilgart to use the hose.

Senior Constable Hilgart is appealing against a guilty verdict on one charge, for spraying the hose in John’s face. He argues he was providing after-arrest care to wash the capsicum spray from the pensioner’s face.

Magistrate Cathy Lamble last year found the pair and a third officer, Senior Constable 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. The other three officers were not charged.

John will continue giving evidence on Wednesday.

If you or anyone you know needs support call Lifeline 131 114, or Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.

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