Police say they had no other option but to shoot and kill a 29 year-old mentally ill man – including eight shots fired as he ran away.
Jerrim Toms was shot and killed by police following a 40 minute car chase, which ended at 4am on a deserted highway near Puhoi, north of Auckland, on 31 March 2018.
Toms got out of his car, which had been hit three times by police road spikes, and advanced on two officers holding a machete.
The officers fired four shots as Toms walked towards them and eight more as he ran away.
One officer kept firing even after Toms had dropped his machete on the road and the final shot was fired when Toms was unarmed and 14 metres away from police.
The court was played a 90 minute video compilation of the incident, using footage captured on CCTV and by the police Eagle helicopter, at an inquest held at the Auckland District Court.
The footage shows that one of the officers kicked out at Toms as he lay on the ground, having dropped his weapon.
But the officer told the inquest that he did not intend to kick Toms. “I don’t believe I kicked him,” he said. “I made a swiping motion with my foot.”
In the video Toms, suffering a psychotic episode, is shown stealing petrol from a service station and then driving erratically, and often at high speed and sometimes without lights, north up State Highway 1 towards Puhoi.
The video included the 18 minute 111 call made by Jerrim’s mother Joan Toms, asking for police to do a welfare check on her son, who had become aggressive and threatened to burn down the family’s Onehunga home.
One of the officers, identified only as Constable A, told the inquest that earlier in the car chase Toms had got out of his car and sprinted up to the police car and smashed his machete against the window, threatening the lives of the two officers.
Minutes later, in the final confrontation with Toms, Officer A said he had no option other than to use his Glock pistol.
“I was telling him, commanding him, to put the weapon down.”
The officer said he was begging Toms – “please don’t make me do this” – but Toms did not obey.
“He was going to kill me. It was either him or me at that point.”
The officer said deploying pepper spray or using Taser were not safe options.
A 2019 report by the Independent Police Conduct Authority said the police were justified in shooting Toms but was critical of police command and control of the incident.
The two officers fired thinking they were the only police at the scene.
In fact there were six other patrol cars and seven other officers there, plus a police helicopter above.
The police convoy included a dog unit, which the IPCA says could have been used as a first option for disabling Toms.
In the hours before he died Joan Toms had called police asking for a welfare check on her son, who had bipolar disorder.
But when police arrived at the Toms’ family home Jerrim was not there and neither was his car and so the officer deleted the job from the police alert system.
That meant that when Constable A and Constable B confronted Toms on State Highway 1, they didn’t know about his mum’s emergency call or his mental health history.
The IPCA report said police accept it was “inappropriate” for the officer who did the welfare check on Toms to delete the job from the alert system after finding he was not home.
Toms was just weeks away from being a father for the first time.
Toms’ mental health records say marijuana use “destabilised his mental state typically by increasing his paranoia” and that “he also used methamphetamine on occasion”.
Toxicology tests found small traces of meth, cannabis and alcohol in Toms’ blood after he was shot.
Police asked a forensic pathologist what effect the meth had but he said it was “not possible to correlate a post-mortem blood level of methamphetamine with a specific behaviour”.
While Toms turned and ran after being hit twice in the front he may well have died even if the officers had stopped firing when he turned and ran.
Autopsy results showed the two chest wounds were both fatal shots in their own right. A back wound – one of the eight bullets fired as he ran away pierced his right, lower right back – was serious but classed as “potentially non-fatal”.
The inquest is set to continue for the rest of the week.
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz