WA police officers questioned over pursuit of Aboriginal woman Ms Wynne at inquest

WA police officers have been asked to explain why they chased a 26-year-old Aboriginal woman, entered her residence and handcuffed her, despite not suspecting her of committing any specific crime. Ms Wynne died five days later in hospital.

Ms Wynne's cousin, Tseena Cooper, pictured holding photos of Ms Wynne.

Ms Wynne's cousin, Tseena Cooper, pictured holding photos of Ms Wynne. Source: Supplied

The coronial inquest into the death of Noongar-Yamatji woman Ms Wynne resumed in Perth on Tuesday, with questions asked about WA police officers who pursued and handcuffed the woman who was mentally ill. 

The court heard that an officer at the WA Police state operations centre downgraded an alert that would have notified patrol officers Ms Wynne had escaped a mental health facility only days earlier.

Detective Sergeant Jason Barnes told the inquest on Tuesday that he removed an apprehension and return order issued by Joondalup Health Campus because he believed the order was not valid and did not give police the power to return Ms Wynne to hospital.

The sergeant’s removal of the order on 30 March 2019 meant that information related to Ms Wynne’s escape from a mental health facility at Joondalup Health Campus only days earlier was not immediately visible to officers on patrol.

L-R: Ms Wynne’s mother Shirley Wynne, cousin Tsheena Cooper and uncle Derrick Cooper.
Source: Supplied

Detective Sergeant Barnes said he did know at the time that Ms Wynne had escaped and that she was considered a serious risk to herself and others.

He said his actions still required police to perform a welfare check and told the court that he believed any officer would have come to the conclusion that Ms Wynne required urgent medical intervention. 

“I thought any officer that came across her would do their due diligence,” Detective Sergeant Barnes said.

WA Police attempted to find Ms Wynne multiple times to conduct the welfare check over the following days, but couldn’t locate her at any of her usual addresses.

'Suspicion'

It wasn’t until 4 April 2019 that WA police officers came into contact with Ms Wynne. 

First Class Constable Daniel Ellis and Constable Fitzpatrick (whose first name was not provided by the court) were patrolling the suburb of East Victoria Park at 5:48am when they saw a person walking along Hubert Street wearing a dark-hooded jumper and dark-coloured shorts.

Constable Ellis told the inquest on Tuesday that officers decided to stop the individual because they suspected they could have committed a crime. 

“(It) is a high crime area. We pulled our vehicle to the side of the road. I saw the person's head move and they immediately ran,” Constable Ellis said. 

The officers made a call over police radio for other units to look out for the individual in a dark-hooded jumper, before giving chase on foot.

Constable Ellis denied officers pursued the individual because of their skin colour. 

He also said officers were justified in seeking to stop and question the person, as he believed a crime had been or was about to be committed.

“She ran away. That increased my suspicion that she was involved in a crime,” he said.

Police enter 

At 6:05am, a separate police unit from Cannington police station attended a nearby house to search for a person wanted for questioning.

The residence was the apartment of Ms Wynne’s mother, Shirley Wynne. When police entered, they found Ms Wynne, who matched the description of the hooded individual provided by Constable Ellis. 

When Constable Ellis and Constable Fitzpatrick arrived at the house, there were already several plain-clothed and uniformed police officers at the residence, including detectives inside questioning Ms Wynne, her mother and another man asleep in a bedroom. 

“As I entered, I observed approximately four to five police inside (and saw the) person who fled earlier. At that point I realised she was a female,” Constable Ellis told the inquest.

Detective Sergeant James Stanbury was among the first officers to enter the residence, and said police had the right to go in because they suspected a person who had committed a crime was inside. 

Detective Stanbury told the inquest that police realised immediately the person wanted for questioning was not at the apartment, but they remained there to question the others inside.

Both Ms Wynne and her mother became distressed, and yelled at police officers to leave.

Handcuffs

Multiple police officers gave evidence on Tuesday that Ms Wynne refused to provide her name, and that she appeared distressed, erratic, and was pacing and flailing her arms and legs, which officers attributed to the effects of drug use.

“There could have been some sort of substance abuse mixed with running from police and not wanting us to be there,” Constable Ellis said.

“We deal with a lot of people that are under the influence of certain substances, so you get a gauge of what people are like.”

Another police officer, Detective Sergeant Layla Boyd, decided to place Ms Wynne in handcuffs.

“It was quite clear to me that she was drug affected … she certainly wasn’t listening to any [instruction] at that point,” Detective Sergeant Boyd told the inquest.

“Not only for their safety but for her safety as well, I have made the decision to place her in handcuffs”. 

Constable Ellis and Detective Sergeant Boyd each gave evidence that Ms Wynne was handcuffed to prevent her causing injury to herself or police officers.

However, the lawyer representing Ms Wynne’s family, Claire O’Connor SC, questioned why handcuffs were necessary, with nine police officers present at the residence.

Another officer who gave evidence on Tuesday, First Class Constable Luke Yakacikli, said that Ms Wynne was “crying, upset and yelling for her mum to help her” while the handcuffs were applied.

After being handcuffed, Ms Wynne was led outside, where officers questioned her for approximately ten minutes.

“We asked her to take a seat, which she did. She sat with her back up against the wall. I asked why she ran from police, she replied that she was nervous,” Constable Ellis said.

Police said Ms Wynne’s behaviour generally calmed, but she remained handcuffed while the questioning continued. At one point, Sergeant Boyd removed the handcuffs and left the residence, but Constable Ellis immediately replaced the handcuffs with his own.

During the questioning of Ms Wynne by police, Constable Yakacikli went downstairs to a police vehicle to run a background check. 

Constable Yakacikli told the court that he saw a transport order requesting Ms Wynne be conveyed to hospital, but it was expired.

The only actionable information he saw, Constable Yakacikli said, was the requirement for police to perform a welfare check.

He said he relayed that information to Constable Fitzpatrick, but didn’t return upstairs to see Ms Wynne himself.

When asked whether he believed the welfare check had been done, Constable Yakacikli said he believed Constable Fitzpatrick would have completed it.

The Coroner has asked lawyers representing WA Police to provide written evidence that the welfare check was conducted and what observations police officers made. 

All of the officers that gave evidence on Tuesday said they believed Ms Wynne did not require further medical attention. After completing the background check and removing the handcuffs, police left the premises.

Ms Wynne then suffered a severe mental health episode, and later that morning, lost consciousness while being restrained by police a second time. She died in hospital five days later.

The inquest continues.

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.


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Published 15 September 2021 at 1:12pm
By Aaron Fernandes, Cason Ho
Source: SBS News

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