Police officer charged with murder of Yamatji woman gives evidence in court

A WA police officer charged with murder for fatally shooting an Aboriginal woman two years ago has given evidence during his own trial.

Bernadette Clarke (right) the sister of a woman referred to as 'JC' at family's request arrives with family and supporters at the District Court of West Australia, in Perth, Monday, October 4, 2021.

Bernadette Clarke (right), the sister of JC, with family and supporters at the District Court of West Australia, in Perth. Source: AAP

 This article contains an image of an Aboriginal woman who has died.

A police officer charged with murder has told Western Australia’s Supreme Court that he feared he was about to be stabbed the moment before he fatally shot an Indigenous woman.

The 29-year-old Yamatji woman, now known for cultural reasons by her initials JC, was shot and killed by the police officer on 17 September 2019, after she was seen carrying a knife and a pair of household scissors on a suburban street in a suburb of Geraldton, 370 kilometres north of Perth.

The officer who shot her, who cannot be named under a court order protecting his identity, gave evidence during his own trial on Tuesday.

The prosecution has argued that by shooting JC, the officer intended to kill her or at least endanger her life, and that he acted unlawfully and without justification.

The accused was riding in the passenger seat of an unmarked police vehicle and was one of eight officers who arrived on Petchell Street in Rangeway at around 6:20pm on 17 September 2019.

JC was shot and killed by a police officer on a suburban street in Geraldton in September 2019.
Source: AAP

“When I’ve arrived, I pulled into the street, I could see she had a large knife in her hand. A couple seconds later I could see the back of her hand, she had scissors in it,” he told the court.

At the time the accused got out of the passenger side door of his vehicle, JC was still walking slowly along Petchell Street, having ignored at least one demand by police officers to drop the knife.

While being questioned by his own lawyer, Linda Black, the accused told the court he drew his police-issued firearm after he exited his vehicle and had “jogged” three to four steps in JC’s direction.

The accused told the court that he shouted several commands at JC and that he was "surprised" that she did not drop the knife.

“If I’m pointing a firearm at someone and telling them to drop it, that’s serious. I expected as soon as I pulled out the firearm … she would give up.”

The accused said that JC stopped walking along Petchell Street after another police vehicle parked across the length of the road, effectively blocking her path.

The accused was one of three officers who stepped outside of their vehicles to confront JC, and the only officer to draw his gun.

Senior Constable Adrian Barker did not draw any weapon while a third officer, First Class Constable Dillon McLean drew a Taser.

On Tuesday, the accused described Senior Constable Barker as “inept” for approaching JC unarmed in an attempt to talk her into dropping the knife.

“[Barker] had got out of his vehicle and walked to the front of his car, and had nothing in his hands … the proximity from her to him, he had nothing to protect himself,” the accused said.

“He’s often assaulted. Often puts himself in situations where he does get assaulted.”

Senior Constable Barker gave evidence during the trial last week, and said that he knew JC having assisted her to hospital only 10 days prior, and that he considered guns to be a barrier to communication.

The accused said JC stopped by the side of the road and turned to face him with the knife held at waist height in front of her. 

He said that JC brought the knife up and was about to lunge towards him when he aimed his gun at her mid-section and fired a single bullet from about three to four metres away into her abdomen.

“She raised the knife up and out and her body has come forward like she was going to lunge at me. And I shot her”.

Cross examination

The court was told that the officer shot JC once with a hollow point bullet, designed to ‘mushroom’, cause internal bleeding and incapacitate the target as quickly as possible.

The prosecution has argued that CCTV footage taken from a home 65 metres away from the scene shows that JC did not step towards the officer before he shot her.

On Tuesday, prosecutor Amanda Forrester SC, suggested to the accused that JC never raised the knife or thrust it towards him.

“She certainly did,” the accused replied.

Ms Forrester said that only 16 seconds passed between when the accused got out of his vehicle and when he shot JC, and that he did not allow other officers an opportunity to negotiate without resorting to lethal force.

A supporter of a woman referred to as JC at her family's request outside the District Court of Western Australia in Perth.
Source: AAP

“Do you accept that by going in on your own, that you failed to utilise the presence of seven other officers?” Ms Forrester said.

After the officer shot JC, he said that he saw her lean forward, drop the knife on the road before stumbling and falling backwards.  

“As soon as she had fallen down, I stood there for a second. Then I seen someone run past on my left and kick the knife [away],” he told the court.

The accused said that he considered his firearm to be the “best method” to disarm JC, and that he acted in accordance with his training, which teaches that a person armed with a knife should be treated as a lethal threat.

However, the accused acknowledged under cross-examination that he had also been trained to draw his firearm in order to allow another officer to deploy a less lethal force option, such as a Taser.

JC, who had significant mental health and substance abuse issues, was conveyed by ambulance to Geraldton Regional Hospital and died an hour later after being shot.

The court heard that the accused continued to work as a police officer at the Geraldton Police station for nearly six months, where he lived with his partner and children.

He was arrested at his home by homicide investigators at around 5am on 20 February 2020.

Through his lawyer, the officer has accepted before the court JC’s death was caused by the bullet that he shot, but pleaded not guilty to one charge of murder.

Closing addresses by both the defence and prosecution lawyers are expected to begin on Thursday.

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline crisis support on 13 11 14, visit lifeline.org.au or find an Aboriginal Medical Service here. Resources for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can be found at Headspace: Yarn Safe.


Published 19 October 2021 at 10:16pm, updated 20 October 2021 at 1:27pm
By Aaron Fernandes
Source: SBS News