The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that two officers were legally justified in firing 12 shots at Jerrim Toms on State Highway 1 near Puhoi on 31 March 2018, after he advanced on them while wielding a machete. However, there was inadequate communication, control and command of the incident as a whole, by Police.
The incident began at about 3.23am, when an officer encountered Mr Toms in a Subaru parked on State Highway 1 north of Wellsford. Mr Toms' car was partially blocking a lane, and when the officer stopped to speak with him, Mr Toms got out with a machete in his hand. The officer reversed away, called for backup and then followed Mr Toms when he drove off.
Police pursued Mr Toms for the next 40 minutes, using road spikes on three occasions. At times Mr Toms would stop and interact with Police before driving off again. Eventually Mr Toms, and the seven patrol cars which had been following him at a distance, stopped about a kilometre north of the Johnstones Hill Tunnel.
Mr Toms got out of the Subaru and approached one of the two closest officers, who also got out of their vehicle. Mr Toms was still carrying the machete and ignored the officer's shouted commands to stop, drop his weapon and get on the ground. When Mr Toms got to within about 1.5 metres, that officer and his partner both began firing shots at him: a total of 12 within about four seconds. The initial four shots caused two fatal injuries.
The Authority determined that, although 8 of the 12 shots were fired after Mr Toms had turned and started running away from the officers, they were all legally justified as the officers were acting in self-defence and defence of others. One officer honestly believed he had fired all his shots before Mr Toms turned away (although other evidence indicated otherwise), while the other officer believed Mr Toms had still posed a threat.
"The latter officer's actions need to be assessed in light of the fact that he was making instant decisions in a highly stressful situation; he did not know other Police were in the immediate vicinity; and he thought that members of the public might have been at the scene. Given Mr Toms' prior actions, it is therefore understandable that the officer's mind was focused on neutralising the threat that he believed he posed. As soon as Mr Toms dropped his weapon, the officer stopped firing", said Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty.
The Authority also found that:
"The Shift Commander was not proactive in ensuring that there was a proper plan in place. In the absence of any communication between them, each unit operated independently, leading to an uncoordinated response that meant the potential range of tactical options available to Police was not known or used", said Judge Doherty.