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HomeNew ZealandShift commander didn't tell officers of Jerrim Toms' mental state, inquest hears

Shift commander didn’t tell officers of Jerrim Toms’ mental state, inquest hears

Jerrim Toms

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Jerrim Toms, 29, was killed by police in 2018.
Photo: Supplied

The shift commander in control of police resources on the night Jerrim Toms was shot dead says he knew about the 29-year-old’s mental illness but that didn’t alter his strategy on how to deal with him.

Under questioning at an inquest into Toms’ death, Inspector Shawn Rutene also said he didn’t know why a police dog, that was on hand at the confrontation, wasn’t deployed as an alternative to shooting him.

Toms was shot at 12 times by police – including eight shots fired as he ran away – following a 40-minute car chase which ended at 4am on a deserted highway near Puhoi, north of Auckland, on 31 March 2018.

Toms, who was suffering a relapse from bipolar disorder, got out of his car, which had been hit three times by police road spikes, and advanced on two officers holding a machete.

Coroner Bell oversees Jerrim Toms inquest who was shot by police

Coroner Bell is overseeing the inquest.
Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

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.

Inspector Rutene, who was controlling the incident from North Comms, told a coronial inquest at the Auckland District Court today that he found out about Toms’ mental health problems during the car chase but did not pass that information on to officers pursuing him.

“I think it would have made it worse,” Rutene said. He had to focus on what an offender was doing rather than why he was doing it.

A memorial for Jerrim Toms on the Twin Coast Highway where the was shot.

A memorial for Jerrim Toms.
Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

His comments contrast a 2019 Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) report into the shooting, which said that if the officers giving chase had known Toms was mentally ill they may have acted differently.

“It may also have led them to consider that, given Mr Toms had exclusively targeted police, he might goad them into a response that left no alternative but to use lethal force against him.”

The IPCA report also said a police dog unit could have been used as a first option for disabling Toms. The dog handler had said he was just getting his dog out of the wagon when he heard the fatal shots.

Jerrim's sister Natasha Toms

Jerrim Toms’ sister Natasha holds a photograph of him.
Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Lawyer Philip Hamlin, acting for the Toms family, asked Inspector Rutene whether he told the officers in the lead car giving chase, whether the dog was on hand.

“I cannot recall,” he said.

Rutene was asked why the police dog wasn’t deployed.

“I don’t know,” he said.

The IPCA was critical of police command and control of the incident and said Toms may not have died if the Shift Commander had developed a better strategy.

“No tactics or plan regarding what to do once Mr Toms stopped was articulated by the Shift Commander,” the IPCA report said.

“Police could have contained Mr Toms in a more controlled manner, limiting any risk to the public and averting the circumstances that led to his death.”

Today Inspector Rutene said he disagreed with the IPCA.

“I have to trust in the staff on the ground to deal with the situation in front of them.”

Jerrim Toms

Jerrim Toms.
Photo: Supplied / Toms family

Inspector Rutene said Toms presented a major threat as he was travelling at speeds of up to 150 km/h, sometimes without lights. He was also worried that Toms, who was armed with a machete, might attempt a carjacking.

One of the officers who shot Toms also gave evidence today, saying that earlier in the car chase, Toms got out of his car, sprinted up to her police car and smashed his machete against the window with force.

“He was looking at me with wide eyes and aggression on his face,” she said.

“I honestly feared for my life at that point. He was very aggressive. The look on his face was that he wanted to seriously injure me or kill me. I was terrified to be honest.”

In the final confrontation the officer said she heard her partner tell Toms to put down his machete several times but he did not comply.

She said she fired four to six shots in a few seconds.

“I genuinely feared for my partner’s life at that point.”

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