Inquest underway into mentally ill man shot dead by police

Source: Radio New Zealand

A 29-year-old mentally ill man shot dead by police - including eight shots fired as he ran away - was a "bright, authentic and honest" man, whose condition deteriorated with the use of meth, a coronial inquest heard today.

The officers who fatally shot Jerrim Toms did not know about his history of mental health problems.

By Guyon Espiner for rnz.co.nz

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 March 31, 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.

An inquest into his death opened today in the Auckland District Court, before Coroner Bell.

The inquest heard that in the hours before he died, Jerrim's mother 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 in the Auckland suburb of Onehunga, Jerrim was not there and neither was his car, so the officer deleted the job from the police alert system.

That meant when the officers - codenamed Constable A and Constable B to protect their identities - confronted Toms on State Highway 1, they did not know about his mum's emergency call or his mental health history.

A 2019 report by the Independent Police Conduct Authority said police accepted 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.

'The sad answer is no' - Medical professional on provision of more care

A memorial for Jerrim Toms at the spot where he was fatally shot by police.

The inquest today heard from a medical professional - his name and occupation are suppressed - who assessed Toms about two weeks before he was shot and believed that drug use had precipitated his relapse.

He was a "bright, authentic and honest" man whose mental health had been affected by drug use, the medical professional said.

He told the court that in the four years since the incident he had asked himself "about 20 times" whether he could have given Toms any additional care. "From my perspective the sad answer is no."

But the mental health care Toms received is under scrutiny at the inquest.

Documents before the coroner show that Auckland DHB's mental health unit reviewed the standard of care Toms received in the weeks leading up to the shooting.

"Clinicians told the review team that increasing pressure for beds has meant that discharges occur when patients are settled enough for intensive community follow up rather than when they are completely settled," the review said.

For Toms, the lack of bed space meant he was released before "full resolution of his mood and psychotic symptoms".

Toms was just weeks away from being a father for the first time. "He talked about his dreams and seeing his daughter," the medical professional, who saw Toms two weeks before he was shot, said. "Sadly that did not come to be."

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".

Officers caught up with Toms after he stole petrol from a service station and was driving erratically, including stopping to threaten police with a machete and also to smash his own tail lights out.

In the final confrontation Toms walked towards the two officers holding a machete and got within three metres of the pair before they opened fire, hitting him twice in the chest before 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 officers 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 police are set to give evidence at the inquest on Monday.