Cop ‘preyed’ on vulnerable women
A Victorian judge has condemned the “utter betrayal” of a former police officer who used his position of authority to prey on vulnerable women.
Brett Johnson, 43, returned before the County Court of Victoria on Tuesday, where Judge Elizabeth Gaynor detailed the “widespread damage” of his actions that had left women afraid of police and believing all men were predators.
“You preyed upon the very people you had vowed to serve and protect,” she said.
“You utterly betrayed that trust … you may have the support of family and friends in your time of need, these women did not. They had to turn to Victoria Police.”
Last month, Johnson pleaded guilty to 10 charges of misconduct in public office for offending against nine women between October 2010 and July 2019.
The court heard he resigned from the force, where he had worked for 15 years, in October 2021 after being charged with hundreds of offences.
Most of these were later withdrawn, resulting in him pleading guilty to the 10 charges.
One charge related to Johnson engaging in a sexual relationship with a witness of a crime, while two others related to pursuing intimate relationships with vulnerable women.
The remaining charges were for unauthorised use of Victoria Police’s LEAP database, which contains sensitive information including phone numbers, home addresses and details of interactions with police.
One of the women, known as complainant B, first came into contact with Johnson in June 2019 after reporting to the police station he worked at as part of her bail conditions.
An hour after having a brief chat with Johnson, he began messaging her from his personal phone and on Snapchat.
She felt “intimidated and uneasy”, Judge Gaynor found, and tried to not engage with Johnson.
Over the following week, he would send her dozens of messages in a flirty manner, telling her he was “bored” and she should “come in and say hi”.
Two days after she first met Johnson, he turned up at her home address, “persistently” telling her to come down.
Three days later she was arrested and suffered a panic attack in the squad car when they told her they were taking her back to the police station.
An audit of Johnson’s phone found he had made 10 calls and sent 68 messages to her in just five days, while also using his position to look up her details on the LEAP database.
Another victim, identified by the pseudonym Ms Victoria, first met Johnson when an employee’s laptop was stolen in early 2012 and she was contacted to make a statement.
He soon began sending her Snapchat messages and text messages from his personal phone, telling her she was “lucky” to not be charged, and threatening to park a police car outside the business.
The pair began a sexual relationship which lasted a number of years.
On one occasion, the court heard, the vulnerable woman expressed a desire to take her own life, to which Johnson responded by saying; “wanna f--k?”.
He looked up her private information on LEAP multiple times between 2012 and 2017, including accessing her mental health records.
In a victim impact statement, she said she now felt Johnson had “used and abused” his position to gain sex.
“She said she believed because you were a police officer you were decent and honest,” Judge Gaynor said of Ms Victoria‘s impact statement.
“She said that your actions caused her to develop severe mistrust of those around her.”
The court heard two of the women met Johnson while seeking police help in responding to incidents of family violence, while for three victims, he did nothing with the information obtained from police systems.
His lawyers told the court he would often access the LEAP database because he was “bored”.
Judge Gaynor found the offending represented a serious breach of his duty as a police officer.
“It went on for many years, it involved many women and caused widespread damage,” she said.
“It must be made clear the power they (police) hold is a privilege and it is their sworn duty to protect and serve.”
The court heard Johnson, who now worked for his brother as a plumbing apprentice, had suffered mental health problems since the breakdown of his first engagement in 2006.
He is now married to a police officer with two children.
He suffers, a psychiatrist found, from anger and depression alongside a “perennial fragile self-esteem”, using the offending as a “near-compulsive search for gratification” to boost his self-confidence.
Johnson was jailed for six months and will be placed on a two-year community corrections order with 300 hours of community service when released.
Sentencing Johnson, Judge Gaynor said she had made his imprisonment “much less than it would be otherwise” after finding his incarceration would be much more difficult as a former police officer and would impact his mental health.
The court heard he would likely be held in protective custody, with 23 hours each day spent in lockdown and limited access to programs in prison.