By Cam Lucadou Wells
A former reservist soldier who tied up and threatened to shoot a terrified worker as he tried to rescue his cat from an animal shelter in Cranbourne West has been jailed.
Tony Douglas Wittman, 25, of Langwarrin, pleaded guilty in Victoria County Court to charges of aggravated burglary, common assault, perjury and false imprisonment.
He told police he had a ‘brain meltdown’ and ‘went into army mode’ after being told by phone he could not retrieve his missing cat from The Lost Dogs Home before the next day.
On the night of January 11, 2021, he packed a black mask with a white skull print, a fake flashbang, fake firearms, cable ties, a tomahawk, a hunting knife, three ammo clips, a torch, wire cutters and an animal carrier.
Dressed in military-style clothing, he punched a hole in the perimeter fence and drove into the pound around 10:20 p.m.
Wittman walked up and pointed his fake gun at a female worker as she was on her way to her on-call night shift.
She described Wittman as wearing “full military style clothing” and carrying a “gun” like a SWAT team member in a movie.
“If you do what I say and listen to me, I won’t shoot you,” Wittman told him.
She begged him, “Please don’t shoot me, I have a two-year-old boy.”
Wittman ushered him in and asked where the cats were. Afraid he would harm the cats, she said she had no keys to the area.
Wittman pointed the gun with his finger on the trigger. He threatened to shoot her repeatedly if she did not comply.
He ordered her to kneel as he tied her hands behind her back with cable ties.
In what he later described as a “tactical withdrawal”, Wittman left through the hole he cut in the fence. He threw his military clothes and weapons into the bush.
After five minutes, with her hands still tied, the worker managed to call her manager, her partner and the triple-0.
“Help me, there’s a man with a gun, call the police,” she told her manager.
A security guard found her crying, shaking and struggling to stand.
She told police she was “terrified that this person would come back or try to find me”. He was “so aggressive and cold towards me that I honestly thought he was going to shoot me and the animals”.
She was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms such as flashbacks and nightmares. She was unable to return to the work she loved.
At the February 25 sentencing, Judge Duncan Allen said the worker’s victim impact statement described her “abject horror and fear” as she was “tormented” and “tortured” by Wittman.
“You have unequivocally changed his life.”
Police were called after Wittman returned to pick up her cat the next day. He initially denied breaking in the previous night and perjured himself with a false written statement.
He later confessed when police found evidence that he was out until 11:23 p.m. that evening.
“I had a brain meltdown… I tackled and ran through the perimeter of the lost dog house and went to get my cat,” Wittman told police.
“The only thing I really cherish in this world is this cat and it was taken from me.
“And out of anxiety, I acted irrationally and didn’t think about the consequences of my actions or the fallout or – what happened. I was only thinking about saving my cat because my cat saved me from killing myself so many times.
Wittman said he had no intention of harming the worker and that he “believed it was best to perform a tactical removal.”
“I could imagine she would be less scared and have nightmares for a long time.
… I really hope they give him advice that I never received.
“The original plan was to sneak out…catch my cat…get the f*** out…not engage unless absolutely necessary.”
Judge Allen said Wittman’s offense – “gross as it is and horrific as its impact on its victim” – was not motivated by personal enrichment.
He also noted Wittman’s early guilty plea, no previous criminal convictions, genuine remorse, mental illness, and a possible diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. His PTSD was linked to severe criminal abuse during his childhood.
He said the community was better protected by Wittman continuing psychological and psychiatric treatment after his parole.
Wittman was imprisoned for up to six years, including a minimum period without parole of three years. His sentence includes 410 days served in pretrial detention.