: Coronial proceedings: Queensland police shootings and mental health

Coronial proceedings: Queensland police shootings and mental health

Nick Collyer
Queensland

A recent coronial inquiry examined the police shooting of Laval Zimmer in 2014. His death was just one of five Queensland Police Service (‘QPS’) shootings occurring in a period of just over a year. The common factor in each shooting was that the deceased had mental illness.

Queensland Advocacy Incorporated (‘QAI’) received amicus leave to contribute and to make systemic recommendations around police handling of people with mental illness.

At the time of Laval’s death, he was on his mobile phone and talking to a ‘Policelink’. He had called to make a complaint, about police, alleging that they had used excessive force when arresting him just a few hours before. He had already been Tasered earlier that day outside a service station after being arrested in relation to a minor scuffle with a friend.

During processing for the earlier offence, Laval revealed to police that he had been treated for ‘bipolar, chronic epilepsy, and schizophrenia’ and the information was entered into the police database. Yet the five officers later sent to his home had no knowledge of these details.

At first the 000 call-takers ignored his requests. They bantered with him, teased him, and hung-up on him repeatedly. One of the operators jeered at Laval, accusing him of cowardice. Only one, the last, followed procedure and referred the complainant to Policelink. Laval called them, and his complaint was taken. By this stage however, the 000 communications commander had dispatched two QPS officers, joined later by another three, to Laval’s address, to prevent further calls and perhaps to arrest him for improper use of an emergency call service.

Three of the officers who attended were low-ranking and inexperienced. They were told that Laval was a big man, dangerous, and probably hostile. They knew Laval had been Tasered earlier, and that Laval had seemed immune to the 50000 volts-at-peak. It later transpired that the arresting officers had deployed the weapon incorrectly. When the officers entered the house in darkness, Laval was cornered. He produced a knife, and two officers immediately shot him.

At the inquest, QAI successfully raised the need for training of 000 call-takers, many of whom demonstrated poor communications skills, and the (lack of) mental health awareness and training of police officers.

The Coroner’s findings are due early in 2017.

NICK COLLYER is a Systems Advocate, Queensland Advocacy Incorporated.

(2016) 41(4) AltLJ 288
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