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Victoria Police officers found guilty of 2017 assault on disability pensioner

Three police officers who were captured on CCTV bashing a man outside his Melbourne home during a welfare check in 2017 have been found guilty of assault.

The Heidelberg Magistrates' Court heard the man, known as John, was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD and was 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 triple-0 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 in order to ensure that ambulance officers could safely assess his physical and mental state. The court was told John — who was 36 years old 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. Officers had no plan for dealing with John, court told The bashing was recorded on two CCTV cameras at the home. 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. John was withdrawing from drugs and his doctor had concerns about his health.(ABC News: Chris Gillett)Use of force was 'malicious', magistrate says 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. McLeod, a senior constable, 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. Magistrate Lamble singled out McLeod for his behaviour, saying he was "paying out on [John] for resisting police demands". "His use of force was malicious," she said. "What the f*** did you think was going to happen when you came out swinging at me?" McLeod said to John, according to Magistrate Lamble. But his lawyer, Rahmin de Kretser, told the court McLeod maintained his innocence. While he said there had been a "loss of composure" by McLeod, the officer had been acting lawfully after being attacked by John in "extremely hostile circumstances". He said a conviction was not required in light of the "unique" circumstances of this case. 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. Officers' lawyers argue for no conviction to be recorded Edney's lawyer told the court his client was a junior officer at the time, and had made an error of judgement, 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. Florian Hilgart was found guilty of assault for spraying John in the face with a high pressure hose while McLeod filmed him. Hilgart's lawyer, Malcolm Thomas, submitted a number of character references which showed the offending was "out of synch with the kind, respectful and compassionate man they know". Hilgart suffered a "high level of anxiety" because of the nature of police work, the court heard, but was a hardworking officer. The court heard German-born Hilgart was concerned his immigration status in Australia could be jeopardised if a conviction was recorded against him. Prosecutor Diana Manova said the men had breached the trust placed in them by the community by being found guilty of the kinds of offences they were "trusted to eliminate". She told the court all three should be convicted. The officers have all been suspended from the police force while awaiting the outcome of this case. They will be sentenced next week.

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