Murder trial of policeman who fatally shot young Aboriginal mother hears shocked residents’ accounts
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains images of a person who has died.
The murder trial of a policeman who fatally shot a young Aboriginal mother in the middle of a suburban street has heard dramatic accounts from shocked residents of how quickly the chaos unfolded.
JC, whose full name is not used for cultural reasons, was killed on September 17, 2019 in the Geraldton suburb of Rangeway by a male officer whose identity has been suppressed by the Supreme Court of WA, where he has been on trial since last week.
The court has heard the 29-year-old woman was felled by a single shot, dying in hospital less than two hours after police were first called, told someone was walking around brandishing a knife.
On Wednesday, statements from residents describing how rapidly the situation escalated were read out in court.
Paul Naughton, 36, recounted how he didn’t think much when he spotted JC walking down Petchell Street as he chatted over the fence to his neighbour, beer in hand.
A police wagon pulled up, then he noticed she was holding something, initially thinking it was a screwdriver.
Mr Naughton’s neighbour told him it was a knife.
“The knife was a big one,” he wrote.
“From that point on ... everything seemed to happen so quickly and I was in shock.”
Within moments, eight police officers had swarmed to the scene - three in marked vehicles with sirens blaring, and one unmarked with the accused in the passenger seat.
Five of the officers remained in their vehicles, one got out to approach JC unarmed - believing he could talk her down - the accused ran out of his car, drawing his gun, and another officer also ran towards her pointing an unactivated Taser.
Just 33 seconds after one of the first two officers to arrive at the scene radioed in to say the armed offender was JC, she asked for an ambulance, saying “one shot fired”.
Prosecutor Amanda Forrester told the jury in her opening address that JC still had the knife in one hand as well as a small pair of scissors in the other when she - according to various accounts - either moved her arms, stepped toward police or didn’t move at all.
But defence counsel Linda Black argued JC was close enough to rush forward and stab her client or the unarmed officer and while her feet did not move, she held the knife up, brandishing it and “needed to be taken down”.
Mr Naughton testified he was not sure if JC was standing still or moving - and to say either way would be speculating - but he was positive she was still holding the knife and the cops were still shouting at her to drop it when a “loud crack” rang out.
Another resident said she heard “drop it, drop it, drop it” being shouted very loudly before a bang, then the street went quiet.
Testifying in person on Wednesday was Christopher Markham, a use of force trainer for WA Police and former sniper with UK police, who took the court through how officers received an initial four weeks training followed up by a two-day refresher annually.
They were trained guns should only be used when an officer reasonably believed there was an imminent risk to themselves or others of grievous bodily harm or death.
“No two officers will respond the same way ... their assessment of the danger will be different,” Mr Markham said.
“They have to take into consideration any number of factors ... how the subject is presenting, their demeanour, their behaviour.”
Officers also considered their own skill and ability to reduce the threat, and they “might not even bother” trying to talk the offender down, depending on the urgency of the situation, he said.
Mr Markham also described the fight or flight response - which police call ‘body alarm reaction’ - when they feel they are in a life-threatening scenario.
Adrenaline pumps, the heart beats faster, fine motor skills evaporate as blood goes to bigger muscles and some experience tunnel vision, where they focus on the threat in front of them, and auditory exclusion, where some things they’d normally hear are muffled.
“It’s something that an officer can’t control - it’s going to happen,” Mr Markham said.
The court has heard JC had been struggling with life after prison, was greatly distressed she did not have custody of her young son and had both mental health and substance abuse issues involving methylamphetamine, cannabis and alcohol.
She had threatened to take her own life on multiple occasions, was aggressive towards others and foreshadowed she would die on the day she was fatally shot, the court has heard.
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