The union representing Victoria Police is calling on the state government to overhaul sentencing law for serious offenses to bring punishments in line with community expectations.
Warrnambool man Steven John Cleary, 50, was running last month for attacking two police officers with a baseball bat
The Victorian Police Association and Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton say the sentence was “inadequate”
The Victorian Government says it will look at the outcome of the Warrnambool case as part of sentencing law reviews
The Office of Public Prosecutions yesterday announced it would not appeal against a sentence imposed last month for a man who viciously attacked two Warnambool police officers.
Steven John Cleary, 50, was charged in the County Court to three years and two months in jail, with a non-parole period of one year and 10 months, for the brutal assault.
The Warrnambool man, who the court heard experienced delusions including that he was the king of Australia and Norway, admitted to using a metal baseball bat to repeatedly strike an officer to the head while he was on the ground.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton had requested a submission to be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions requesting an appeal after the “inadequate” sentence.
Police Association Victoria secretary Wayne Gatt said the case represented a “dire fault” within the legal system that needed to be addressed.
“Governments hold the responsibility of making sure the outcomes from courts, that laws the courts must consider when sentencing, actually deliver the outcomes and deliver community expectations,” he said.
“If that’s not happening, it points to a system that is broken. It points to a system that requires reform.”
A Victorian Government spokesperson said in a statement work was under way to “review and modernise” Victoria’s sentencing laws.
The spokesperson said the Attorney-General had asked the Department of Justice and Community Safety to look at the outcome of the case as part of that work.
“This work will occur in consultation with police and other emergency services in addition to victims’ groups and others,” the statement said.
Mr Gatt said it was not just an issue for police officers seriously assaulted at work, but for all victims of serious crime.
“That victim of crime could be you, it could be me, it could be anyone in our community,” he said.
“The system needs to change for all.”
Police body camera footage played to the court showed two police officers attempting to stop a 15-year-old on the street who was not wearing a mask, which was mandated at the time.
The boy contacted Cleary via walkie-talkie and he appeared moments later and rushed forward at the officers.
He continued the frenzied attack despite attempts to restrain him using a taser.
One of the victims, Senior Constable Rowan Baldam, told the court he thought he was going to die.
He said he and his colleague had considered leaving their dream job.
Defense lawyer Jonathan Barrera told the court Cleary had severe impairment mental functioning and experienced delusions, that were “active at the time of offending”.
Cleary has served 300 days in custody since the attack, so will be eligible for parole in a little more than a year.
No appeal lodged
The Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) released a statement explaining its decision not to appeal the sentence.
“In light of all the relevant sentencing considerations, there is no reasonable prosect that the Court of Appeal would consider the sentence to be manifestly inadequate,” the statement said.
“Those sentencing considerations include the application of the Verdins principles, the utilitarian value of the plea of guilty and the absence of any prior convictions.”
Cleary had pleaded guilty to assaulting an emergency worker on duty and intentionally causing injury.
Sentencing is dictated by various legal principles found in the 600-page Sentencing Act and case law.
Verdins case law states mental impairment can reduce the offender’s moral culpability for the offence and affect the weight given to just punishment, denunciation and deterrence as purposes of sentencing.
It also justifies a less severe sentence where there is serious risk of imprisonment could have a significant adverse effect on the offender’s mental health.
Judges are required to weigh up all factors including the gravity of the crime, the harm to the victims, the offender’s individual circumstances including their prior convictions and prospects of rehabilitation.
Mr Gatt said deterrence had become a “peripheral issue” when it should be a “fundamental principle” in sentencing for serious offences.
He said “any right-minded Victorian” could see Cleary’s sentence did not fit the crime, highlighting a need to change sentencing law.
“[The] advice from the OPP … represents a dire fault within our legal system, not within the OPP,” he said.
“This has to change, but it is beyond the role of the OPP to do that.
“Governments hold this responsibility.”