Man who bashed policemen with metal bat ordered to pay officer $75,000

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A man who beat two policemen with a metal bat after a teenager was asked to put a face mask on during the pandemic has been ordered to pay $75,000 in compensation to one of the injured officers.

Senior Constable Rowan Baldam suffered head and hand injuries when he and his colleague, Constable William Ringin, were attacked while working in Warrnambool, in the state’s southwest, in October 2021.

Their attacker, COVID-19 conspiracy theorist Steven John Cleary, was later jailed for three years and two months for the vicious assault.

The injured officer has now been awarded compensation after a County Court judge found Baldam now lived with ongoing pain and suffered as a result of Cleary’s attack.

Judge Caitlin English said on the day of the attack, the two officers were working in the Warrnambool area when they encountered a teenager who was out for a walk.

The judge said the teenager refused to cooperate with police and soon after, Cleary arrived at the scene in his car, retrieved a metal baseball bat from the rear of the vehicle and approached the two policemen.

Steven Cleary during his attack on two police officers in Warrnambool on October 9, 2021.Credit: Victoria Police / County Court of Victoria

English said Baldam, while still holding the teenager, drew his Taser before the boy reached for his colleague’s firearm.

Ringin could then be heard on body-worn camera footage yelling “gun grab” before Baldam was struck with the bat, causing him to fall to the ground.

“Whilst in the foetal position and clenching the back of his head in extreme pain, the respondent struck Senior Constable [Baldam] directly to the head with immense force multiple times. He felt as though he was going to die if the attack continued,” English said.

“Witnessing what he considered might be a deadly attack, Constable [Ringin] charged at the respondent to save his partner.”

Steven Cleary uses a metal baseball bat to strike Senior Constable Rowan Baldam.Credit: Victoria Police / County Court of Victoria

The attack on the two officers continued, with Cleary heard yelling “I am the king”, before backup arrived.

Baldam suffered a laceration to the head and a broken thumb, which required specialist surgery and 12 weeks off work.

During sentencing, Baldam told the judge he feared he would be killed when Cleary, then aged 50, repeatedly struck him to the head with the metal baseball bat as the senior constable lay in a foetal position on the ground.

Following the sentencing, Baldam applied for compensation for the physical and psychological injuries he had suffered as a result of Cleary’s attack.

Senior Constable Rowan Baldam after the attack.Credit: Victoria Police / County Court of Victoria

“Directly afterwards, I remember sitting in the gutter with my head in my hands and feeling the volume of blood that was flowing down my face and neck. I was very concerned I could lose consciousness at any time and I might not wake up,” he told the court.

“I thought I was going to die.”

Baldam told the judge that before the assault, he had a reputation among his colleagues as an enthusiastic, knowledgeable and hardworking senior member who was a positive influence on morale and a respected mentor.

“Now I am most well known, not for my achievements as a police member, but as the member who was the victim of an assault,” he said.

Cleary was jailed on July 22, 2020, after pleading guilty to affray, intentionally causing injury, assault on an emergency worker on duty, and two counts of resisting an emergency worker on duty.

He was given a non-parole period of one year and 10 months, and with time served became eligible for parole last month.

Both the police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton and Police Association secretary Wayne Gatt later expressed disappointment at the sentence Cleary received.

At the time, Gatt questioned whether police had the support of the state’s justice system, given the two officers “were potentially moments away from death”.

English ordered Cleary to pay $75,000 in compensation and $10,000 towards Baldam’s legal costs.

She also acknowledged it was possible that the payment would result in the sale of Cleary’s home, where his wife and two of his children currently reside.

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