The moment a 29-year-old Aboriginal woman was shot and killed by a police officer on a suburban street has been shown to a court in the Perth Supreme Court murder case.
Most important points:
- The woman was shot dead three seconds after the suspect arrived on the scene
- She was holding a knife but stood still when she was shot in the stomach
- The case sparked racial tension in the regional town of Geraldton and an internal police investigation
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains an image of a deceased person.
JC, whose full name is not used for cultural reasons, was murdered on September 17, 2019 in the Geraldton, Rangeway suburb, 420 kilometers north of Perth.
A citizen called the police after seeing someone walking down the street with a long knife.
The officer who shot her, whose identity has been withheld by the court, was charged with one murder in February last year.
Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said at the time that this was the first case in 93 years that a Western Australian police officer had been charged with murder while on duty.
Prosecutor’s Office Amanda Forrester SC told the court on Tuesday that she would argue that the accused’s use of force was completely unjustified given the access he had to other weapons, including tasers, batons and pepper spray.
Housing and mental health issues leading up to death
Ten days before her death, JC was released from prison and Mrs Forrester said she was struggling to find shelter in Geraldton.
She called the police on September 7 in distress and suicidal, and was taken to hospital.
According to her hospital notes, she was verbally and physically aggressive to staff and had to be detained, but she was not suffering from psychosis.
She was fired and returned to Geraldton, where she is believed to have bought drugs after staying with relatives.
The court was told on the day of the deadly shooting that she had also been forcibly removed from a local shopping center and attempted to purchase alcohol with a stolen debit card.
JC wanted to go home to see mother, son
She then went to the Wajarri Community Center where she spoke to Raylene Clayton-Bonney before getting quite upset.
Ms Forrester said Ms Clayton-Bonney reported that JC had been crying and said she wanted to go to Mullewa to see her foster mother and son.
The prosecutor said Mrs. Clayton-Bonney had provided evidence that JC did not appear to be intoxicated that day.
But her foster mother, who spoke to her on the phone, thought she had taken something earlier and come down.
Mrs. Clayton-Bonney helped JC arrange a bus ticket home departing in two days, which seemed to calm her down.
Ms. Forrester said she was visiting relatives at the time and told a man she was staying with that she had a premonition that she would die that day before crossing the road where she got into an argument with a woman.
During the fight, she threatened to kill the woman and herself.
It was then that the police were called, but while they were responding to that call, another call came in, stating that someone had been spotted by a member of the public carrying a large knife and walking down a suburban street.
Police officer shot JC a few seconds after arriving at the scene
The court was shown CCTV footage of a house on Petchell Street in JC that was shot.
A police car arrived at the scene and drove next to JC, while an officer called for her to drop the knife.
The officer in the passenger seat radioed back that they had found someone carrying a knife and pink scissors.
She called again on the radio and said they’d told her to drop the knife or taser her, but she’d ignored them.
Another marked police car arrived and stopped in front of her, a cop got out and started talking to JC.
Mrs. Forrester said the officer, Chief Commissioner Barker, believed he could talk her down.
He was one of the officers who had dealt with her when she called on September 7 with mental health issues.
Another officer got out of his vehicle and pulled his taser, but did not arm him.
An orange unmarked police car then arrived at the scene with the suspect in the passenger seat.
CCTV footage showed him jumping out and running toward the woman who was crumpled on the floor seconds later.
Ms. Forrester said the accused shot JC in the abdomen and severed her iliac artery.
She was taken to hospital but died of internal bleeding.
The 29-year-old Yamatji Wajarri woman leaves behind her son.
The prosecution’s case revolves around reasonable use of force
Ms Forrester said that while the footage was taken too far back to show JC moving her arms, it did show that she had stopped completely when the shot was fired.
She said the state believed the use of force would be “completely unnecessary”, whether in the exercise of their powers as police officers or in self-defense.
“Given the training the accused received and all the officers present, the weapons they were armed with and had access to and all the other options, shooting (JC) on that day was totally unnecessary,” Ms Forrester said.
Ms Forrester said the court would hear evidence regarding how police firearms work, how effective tasers are, the training police officers received and the number of options regarding weapons they wore on their belts while on duty.
She said the court would also hear evidence related to exercises in which police have been trained to deal with armed offenders, including that suspects can travel seven meters in 1.5 seconds, and the training officers receive by being aware of such distances and how their bodies might react.
Agent had ‘split second’, followed procedure, defense says
Attorney Linda Black told the jury that although they would have four weeks to review the evidence, her client “had less than a second to decide whether to pull the trigger”.
“He was a second away from being stabbed,” Ms Black told the court.
“His partner, who unfortunately decided to approach the armed perpetrator, was one second away from a stabbing.
“A woman who stopped, turned around and ignored a police officer poses a risk to everyone there.
“You’ll hear evidence about increasing the risk.
“She wasn’t going to give up, she had to be knocked down.”
She told the court that her client fired a single shot when JC raised her arm and pointed the knife at him.
“When she raised the knife and pointed at him, that’s when he fired,” she said.
“Then everything changed.”
The court was shown images of the 12-inch black-handled kitchen knife with a serrated edge and pink-handled scissors that JC was carrying.
Ms Black said the court would hear in the course of the four-week trial that her client was following proper procedure when he drew his firearm.
Ms. Black also described the CCTV video as misleading in that it contained no audio, and so the jury could not hear the officers yelling for JC to drop the guns into her hands.
“What you’ll see is that (the suspect said) ‘drop the gun, drop the knife, … drop the damn knife,'” Ms. Black said.
Ms. Black said she didn’t know why JC didn’t comply that day.
But she also put forward evidence that the deceased had said to a friend earlier in the day, “I’m going to die today and I don’t want you to come to my funeral.”
Shoot ‘not over race’
Ms Black told the jury she knew there were stories in the media about police actions around the world but said they were irrelevant to this case.
“This isn’t about the color of someone’s skin or about their gender or anything else,” she said.
“This is about a uniformed police officer who went to work and did what he had to do to keep the community safe.
“The person he was dealing with was armed, dangerous, a convicted criminal. She had recently been released from prison.
“He was confronted by an offender who had failed to drop (their) weapon.”
She said her client was “heartbroken” by what had happened.
But Ms. Black said he showed courage and courage in carrying out his duty as a member of the WA Police Force.
“He was willing to act,” she said.
“In lieu of gratitude from the public and the police, he was charged with murder.”
The case is settled for four weeks.