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Australia Police officer not guilty of murdering woman during confrontation on Geraldton street

14:02  22 october  2021
14:02  22 october  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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JC's sisters Bernadette (speaking to reporters) and Bonita Clarke (right) outside court after the verdict was handed down. (ABC News: Cy Millington) © Provided by ABC NEWS JC's sisters Bernadette (speaking to reporters) and Bonita Clarke (right) outside court after the verdict was handed down. (ABC News: Cy Millington)

A police officer has been found not guilty of murdering a woman he shot dead during a confrontation in which she was armed with a knife and pair of scissors.

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

The first-class constable, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was one of eight officers who responded to a call from a member of the public saying they had seen someone on the road with a knife in the regional West Australian city of Geraldton in 2019.

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Only three officers had gotten out of their vehicles when the constable shot and killed the 29-year-old Yamatji woman, who for cultural reasons is referred to as JC.

He was the only officer to draw his gun.

The jury, which found him not guilty of both murder and manslaughter, deliberated for three hours before delivering the verdict.

His defence lawyer, Linda Black, was surrounded by police as family members voiced their grief and disappointment at the outcome of the trial outside the courthouse.

Ms Black said the officer wanted to express his sorrow for the loss of JC’s life.

“He would like to say how sad he is that by doing what he needed to do, someone lost their life," she said.

“Thank you to the community and to the people who chose to serve on the jury who brought him a just outcome.

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“And my particular thanks to the police union, who have provided support to the member throughout this entire devastating process.

“It’s been a very traumatic event for a serving police officer. To face a charge of murder was hard, but for someone like him, who entered the police force in order to do good in the community, it’s been an extremely difficult process for him, he’s just extremely relieved it’s over.”

Family voice grief and anger

JC's death sparked protests and outpourings of grief in Geraldton, where almost 10 per cent of people identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander — more than three times the state average.

Family members travelled to Perth to follow proceedings, and voiced their frustration and anger at the outcome today.

JC’s sister, Bernadette Clarke, said an all-white jury was not appropriate for this kind of trial.

"This was about an Aboriginal woman, and I reckon it should have had a black person on that jury,” she said.

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Ms Clarke, who attended every day of the trial, said the family had been left broken by her death.

“My ancestors will be disgusted," she said.

"The man shot her at point blank.

"[It has] left the family broken. How long is this going to go on for? The next 20 years? It’ll go on forever."

'It's time for change'

Family friend Sandy Davies said there was no justice for Aboriginal people in Western Australia.

"The justice that is served on Aboriginal people and the justice that is served on non-Aboriginal people are two totally different laws," he said.

"If he can walk away with the evidence that was presented today, then every police officer in this state must realise that they can do whatever they want to our mob and they won’t have to answer to anybody."

Mr Davies said it was time for Australia to change.

"I’m going home to Geraldton in the next couple of days and we are going to start bringing change on the streets of Geraldton," he said.

Indigenous human rights advocate Megan Krakouer said the verdict would make Aboriginal people question whether they could rely on police.

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“What confidence does that [give] Aboriginal people? Do we ring the police and ask them for help?" she said.

"A lot of black fellas won't ring the police, so they suffer in silence because we see what happens with the so-called justice.

"We have laws for white, we have laws for black."

Officer feared he was going to be stabbed

The acquitted first-class constable gave emotional evidence in his own defence during the trial.

He said he jogged towards JC and drew his gun when he saw another officer — Senior Constable Barker — approaching her empty-handed.

He told the court he shouted at her to drop the knife, that she was under arrest, and to get on the ground.

No other witness gave evidence of hearing him tell her she was under arrest before he fired, but witnesses reported hearing "drop the knife" and "drop it".

He shot her just seconds after she stopped walking and turned towards him.

The officer said as she turned she "squared up" to him and moved the knife towards him, and he feared she was about to stab him.

The court heard officers were trained to stay more than seven metres from an armed offender but he had ended up closer than that because he had not completely stopped moving after she turned.

He told the court he had pursued her because he did not believe she was contained by the other officers on the scene, and he thought she could run into a house on the suburban street.

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He also gave evidence he was aware relatives she had been staying with had told police they were worried she would harm someone.

Prosecutor Amanda Forrester SC told the court it took just 16 seconds between the officer getting out of his vehicle and him firing his gun, a time period she described as "grossly inadequate".

But his defence lawyer, Linda Black, stressed JC had repeatedly refused to drop her weapons when told to do so by officers who had been on the scene for more than a minute, describing her demeanour as "defiant".

Ms Black detailed to the jury JC's previous criminal convictions, building a picture of a woman she said had "disrespect for the law".

She said this attitude was "relevant to how she engaged with police."

"Please don't think I am suggesting [JC] deserved to be shot because of her past," Ms Black said.

"But her past is relevant to her actions that day."

Not all officers saw knife move

The trial heard from all eight officers on the scene that day.

The only two other officers who got out of their vehicles were Constable Dillon McLean, who drew his taser but did not arm it, and Senior Constable Barker.

Senior Constable Barker told the trial he had hoped to "talk her down".

Of the seven other officers at the scene, two said they saw JC move the knife before the shot rang out.

Constable McLean estimated he was about four or five metres from her, and the officer driving the vehicle the accused arrived in, Edward Cooney, said he remained in his vehicle about 10 metres away.

The other five said they did not see her move the knife.

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One of those officers said his view was obscured and the others said they were not focused on the knife at the moment the shot rang out.

Officer Lucinda Cleghorn, who remained in her vehicle, told the court she was afraid for Barker.

Another witness, a passerby who had spotted JC walking down the road and called police, gave evidence he saw her lunge at the accused officer with the knife in her hand.

He estimated he was about 30 metres away when the shot was fired, but that was disputed by the state.

CCTV footage from a house on the road was taken from around 65 metres from where JC was shot, and it was played to the court.

The prosecution had argued the footage showed she did not take a step towards the constable, but Ms Black argued it was not clear enough to make out the movements of people's arms.

'She had to be taken down'

Defence lawyer Linda Black said her client was not a "trigger-happy constable" but a brave officer who went to work one day and ended up doing what he needed to do to "keep the community safe".

She said JC was armed with an edged weapon, was not contained, and had repeatedly ignored police directions to surrender.

"The accused was never ever going to drop the weapon," she said.

"The first time she dropped the weapon was after she was shot.

"She wasn't going to give up. She had to be taken down."

Police training under microscope

The trial also heard from expert witnesses about how WA Police are trained to use force.

WA Police use of force advisor Christopher Markham told the court officers are taught to choose the appropriate response to an armed offender through the Situational Tactical Options Model (STOM).

WA Police carry capsicum spray, baton, taser and a Glock 22 pistol.

They must pass four weeks of theoretical and practical training in the use of force as recruits, and then complete mandatory training each year to remain certified.

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Mr Markham said there was no single piece of equipment police were required to draw if faced with an offender armed with an edged weapon.

However, the trial also heard from the officer responsible for providing refresher training to the acquitted officer in Geraldton in May, four months prior to the shooting.

He said he taught officers during drills that if someone had a knife they should draw their gun.

The trial also heard he taught them tasers were only reliable 60 per cent of the time, and less reliable if the target was wearing loose clothing.

JC in poor mental health

The court heard shortly before she was killed, JC had been released from a stint in prison and had been suffering from poor mental health after struggling to find housing in Geraldton.

She had called police earlier that month and they had taken her to Geraldton Hospital.

Officer Adrian Barker was one of the officers who helped her that day, staying with her in hospital.

She was later transferred to a Perth hospital where she received treatment, then discharged and returned to Geraldton.

On the day of the shooting, she had gone to a community centre where the office manager had helped her call her foster mother.

Her foster mother Leslie Anne Jones — who had raised her since she was five months old — said when she spoke to JC on the phone, her daughter had been distressed.

She wanted to go back to Mullewa, where she had grown up and where her young son was living.

Her mother had arranged for someone to meet her at the bus stop in two days' time and travel with her back to their home.

She went to her relative — through kinship — Sheraldine Oliver's  house but had become distressed and fought with a younger woman, making threats to harm her and harm herself.

That young woman gave evidence she did not take the threats against her seriously but was worried for JC's own safety and mental health.

Ms Oliver called the police after arriving home and being told JC was missing and that she had taken a large kitchen knife with her.

She was shot just a few blocks away.

The bullet — a jacketed hollow point round — hit her in the abdomen.

She was taken to hospital but died of internal bleeding.

Her sisters have attended each day of the trial in court, often becoming emotional during evidence of JC's final hours.

Other siblings and family members have watched a stream of proceedings into Geraldton and another part of the court.

JC is survived by her son, who is now 9.

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