Policeman who fatally shot young Aboriginal mother found not guilty of murder

Rebecca Le May and Catie McLeodNCA NewsWire
WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said it was one of the “most difficult chapters in history” between Aboriginal people in WA and the police force. NCA NewsWire/Tony McDonough
Camera IconWA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said it was one of the “most difficult chapters in history” between Aboriginal people in WA and the police force. NCA NewsWire/Tony McDonough Credit: News Corp Australia

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

A policeman who fatally shot a young Aboriginal mother in the middle of a suburban street has been found not guilty of murder.

JC, whose full name is not used for cultural reasons, was killed on September 17, 2019 in the Geraldton suburb of Rangeway by an officer whose identity has been suppressed by the Supreme Court of Western Australia, where he had been on trial since October 5.

The court heard the 29-year-old woman was felled by a single shot to the abdomen, dying in hospital less than two hours after police were first called and told someone was walking around brandishing a knife.

Within moments, eight police officers swarmed to the scene in three marked vehicles with sirens blaring, while the accused was in the passenger seat of an unmarked police car.

JC had a young son cared for by her foster mother.
Camera IconJC had a young son cared for by her foster mother. Credit: Supplied

Five of the officers remained in their vehicles, one got out to approach JC unarmed – believing he could talk her down – the accused ran out of his car, drawing his gun, and another officer also ran towards her pointing an unactivated Taser.

Just 33 seconds after one of the first two officers to arrive at the scene radioed in to say the armed offender was JC, she asked for an ambulance, saying “one shot fired”.

Prosecutor Amanda Forrester told the jury in her opening address that JC still had the knife in one hand as well as a small pair of scissors in the other when she – according to various accounts – either moved her arms, stepped toward police or didn’t move at all.

Joyce Clarke
Camera IconPictured (l-r) are supporter Megan Krakouer and JC’s foster mother Anne Jones. The court heard JC just wanted to go home to Ms Jones in Mullewa and arrangements were made to send her there shortly before the fatal shooting. Colin Murty Credit: News Corp Australia

Defence counsel Linda Black argued JC was close enough to rush forward and stab her client or the unarmed officer, and while her feet did not move, she held the knife up, brandishing it and “needed to be taken down”.

Ms Black argued her client was “not some trigger happy constable” but an officer who followed his training, wanted to protect his colleague and was “brave enough to risk his own career, his own life”.

The court heard JC had been repeatedly told during the stand-off to put down the knife and was warned she would be Tasered if she did not.

JC had been struggling with life after prison, was greatly distressed she did not have custody of her young son, and had both mental health and substance abuse issues involving methylamphetamine, cannabis and alcohol.

She had threatened to take her own life on multiple occasions, was aggressive towards others and foreshadowed she would die on the day she was fatally shot, the court heard.

The jury was shown CCTV footage of the shooting, captured from a home 65m away.

Emotional supporters gathered outside court after the verdict, expressing their disappointment.

One of them was JC’s foster mother.

“Six years of age he was when he found out his mother died,” she said gesturing to JC’s young son, who stood alongside her with tears streaming down his face.

“Don’t ever ask for a welfare check on your family when they are in a mental health state.”

One woman told reporters: “I’m so tired … I just want white Australia to understand, to get more of our history and understand why our people are so sad and sorry”.

A man, who identified himself as an Aboriginal elder, said there was “no justice” for Indigenous deaths in custody.

“We will mount another big rally for this. Mark my words,” he said, referring to the chaos that erupted on Geraldton streets after news of JC’s death emerged.

Ms Black was heckled by JC’s supporters as she left court, flanked by police.

“Very sadly, a young lady lost her life and he (the officer) has had no opportunity to be able to express his sorrow for that - he would like to do that today, to say how sad he is,” she told reporters.

MCGOWAN PRESSER
Camera IconWA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said it was one of the “most difficult chapters in history” between Aboriginal people in WA and the police force. NCA NewsWire/Tony McDonough Credit: News Corp Australia

“My client was a serving officer who did his job and he did it to the best of his ability.”

As a small number of JC’s supporters gathered outside Geraldton courthouse, WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said he was aware that “emotions are running high” and urged people to remain calm and respect the jury’s decision.

He said the “tragedy” marked one of the “most difficult chapters in history” between Aboriginal people in WA and the police force.

“My thoughts are with all people involved in this case. I’m sorry that JC lost her life and I’ll once again express my condolences to her family,” he told reporters.

“Frankly, there are no winners in this case. This case demonstrates that each of us in the community are subject to the same judicial process.”

He said JC’s death would be examined at a coronial inquest.

It is believed to be the first time a police officer was charged with murder in the line of duty in almost 100 years in WA.

The officer was stood down while awaiting trial.

Mental health support

Originally published as Policeman who fatally shot young Aboriginal mother found not guilty of murder

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