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Australia Geraldton police shooting murder trial told optimum distance to use a taser is 3-4 metres

04:00  14 october  2021
04:00  14 october  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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The trial of a Western Australian police officer charged with murder has heard from the most junior officer at the scene, who drew his taser instead of his gun. WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains an image of a person who has died. Now a Senior Constable, Dillon McLean was the most junior officer on the scene that day with the rank of Constable. He told the Perth Supreme Court on Monday he drew his taser as he got out of his vehicle but did not arm it at first while running towards JC. Junior officer saw arm with knife moving before fatal shot .

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The deceased's sister Bernadette Clarke has attended every day of the trial. (ABC News: Keane Bourke) © Provided by ABC NEWS The deceased's sister Bernadette Clarke has attended every day of the trial. (ABC News: Keane Bourke)

The murder trial of a police officer who shot and killed a woman armed with a knife has been told the best distance to deploy a taser is from 3 to 4 metres — around the same distance some witnesses put him at when he fired his gun.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains an image of a person who has died.

The officer was a first class constable at the Geraldton police station when he shot the woman on a suburban street in the coastal city, about 380 kilometres north of Perth, in September 2019.

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The officer who drew his Taser moments before an Aboriginal woman was fatally shot in a Geraldton street saw her raise the knife upwards just before his colleague fired his gun, a court has been told .

His identity has been suppressed by the court.

A member of the public called police after spotting the Yamatji woman — who for cultural reasons is referred to as JC — holding a large kitchen knife.

Christopher Markham, a former UK police sniper who is now a senior adviser on the use of force policy and training for WA Police, told the WA Supreme Court on Wednesday that all officers received instruction on the use of tasers in their basic training.

Mr Markham said officers were trained to aim a taser at the lower centre mass of a person, slightly to the left or right.

He told the court this was because the top probe extended straight but the lower probe travelled at an angle of 8 degrees, which meant it spread 15cm over every metre it travelled.

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This caused the probes to separate and ideally connect with the abdomen and either left or right leg.

He told the court an electrical current then travelled through the probes, creating a circuit that delivered 19 pulses per second.

He gave evidence that the circuit was less effective if the probes did not achieve a wide enough separation from each other.

Prosecutor Amanda Forrester SC asked whether the "preferred distance in terms of having optimum effect is 3m max?"

"Three to 4m," Mr Markham said.

She asked whether the training said 3 to 4m was ideal, to which he replied "yes".

Last week, a civilian witness to the shooting, Johannes Calitz, told the court he thought the accused was 4m from JC, while fellow officer Senior Constable Lucinda Cleghorn gave evidence she thought he was "4 to 5m" away when the shot rang out.

He told the court other factors could impact the effectiveness of tasers, including if clothing was too far from the body, the amount of adipose (fat) between the probe and muscle, whether it struck a low muscle mass area — such as the chest — and the integrity of the wire.

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The trial had earlier heard JC was wearing board shorts and a hoodie when she was shot.

Ms Forrester also quizzed Mr Markham over any suggestion the WA Police 'use of force' policy meant there could be only one option to respond to a situational threat, to which he replied "absolutely not".

He said officers had discretion and they were trained to consider factors including the environment, whether other officers were present, the number of offenders, the person's demeanour and level of aggression, access to weapons, the officer's own skill level and whether they could use communication to de-escalate a threat.

Mr Markham also told the court that while stab vests were now ubiquitous for WA Police, they were not worn by all officers in 2019.

CCTV evidence scrutinised

Homicide detective Greg Hunt also gave evidence yesterday about CCTV footage that had been presented to the trial, which showed the moment JC was shot.

Under cross-examination, defence lawyer Linda Black repeatedly asked if he had investigated whether the camera could accurately depict movement at a distance of 65m.

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Witnesses have given conflicting accounts about whether JC moved her arms or stepped towards the accused before he fired.

Senior Sergeant Hunt told the court he was aware of attempts to enhance the footage and the system had "limitations".

Mental health history read to court

During Senior Sergeant Hunt's evidence, Ms Black read out details of JC's criminal record, including her conviction for the assault of an 82-year-old man at a petrol station in 2015.

Ms Black also read out details from a hospital admission from September 7 to 13, just days before the shooting.

The notes stated JC likely suffered from undiagnosed foetal alcohol syndrome and had long-term behavioural issues.

According to the notes, her mental health had stabilised during treatment in jail.

However, a week after being released she become suicidal when she could not find a place to live.

The hospital notes said she was "brought in by WAPOL (WA Police), claiming to want to go back to jail and looking to fight [everyone] to get there."

She told doctors she had been living a transient lifestyle and had relapsed into drug use.

The report said she attacked medical staff while in hospital, including threatening to stab one with pieces of a broken plate and throwing a hot drink at another.

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Final moments detailed

Colleen Taylor was the main treating doctor at Geraldton Hospital the night JC was shot.

Dr Taylor told the WA Supreme Court JC's eyes were not open and she was not speaking when she arrived.

She said she was bleeding internally and her blood pressure was very low.

The doctor gave evidence that JC was "a bit combative" when brought into the ER.

When asked how she was behaving, Dr Taylor said JC had been trying to push her oxygen mask off and was moving her arms during procedures.

She noted when patients were critically unwell they could become combative and it often indicated oxygen deprivation, although she said other factors could be involved including intoxication.

Under cross-examination from Ms Black, she agreed patients could present as combative from several causes including drug use, "coming down from methylamphetamine", or personality issues.

Dr Taylor told the court doctors tried to save JC with blood transfusions and surgery to stem the bleeding in her abdomen, but her heart stopped at 7:05pm.

Her time of death was recorded at 7:27pm.

The trial had earlier heard the day the 29-year-old Yamatji Wajarri woman was shot, she had been trying to get back to Morawa to see her foster mother and young son.

Members of her family have been present in the court during each day of the trial, as have family and supporters of the accused.

The trial continues.

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