Police should reconsider policy to always shoot high-risk threats in the torso, deputy coroner


August 14, 2019 13:42:05

SA Police should consider whether it is “reasonable” to always shoot high-risk threats in the torso and instead aim for limbs in some cases, the deputy coroner has found during his inquest into a 2015 fatal police shooting.

Key points:

  • Deputy coroner Anthony Schapel found it hard to make “meaningful recommendations”
  • He criticised SA Police’s policy to avoid shooting a limb in some high-risk incidents
  • The firing STAR Group officer’s choice of position exposed him to risk

Livestock farmer Alexander Peter Kuskoff, 50, was shot dead by a STAR Group officer at his Elwomple property, about 100 kilometres south-east of Adelaide, after a five-hour stand-off with police in September 2015.

Deputy coroner Anthony Schapel found there was “limited scope” to make any “meaningful recommendations” from the inquest.

However, he said one matter that required discussion within SA Police was its “policy of avoidance of extremity shooting.”

“The SAPOL policy is that if it is necessary to use a firearm to disable a human threat, the centre mass of the individual is the appropriate target,” he said.

“Clearly this is more likely to result in death or very serious injury as distinct from a situation where a limb is the target.

“The policy might well give rise to an appropriate and lawful defensive response appropriate in many cases.

“However, there may be occasions in which the shooting of a person with the torso as a target, with an accompanying intention to kill, will not be regarded as necessary and reasonable or be seen as a proportionate response to the threat posed by that person.

“Whether it is so will naturally depend on all of the circumstances confronting the particular officer — this should be borne in mind by police in the field.”

Two other fatal police shootings will be investigated

The Coroner’s Court will also examine two other police shootings in Adelaide earlier this year.

In May, a 20-year-old man was shot dead by police outside his Ingle Farm home after an alleged domestic violence incident before he approached officers with a lit gas bottle and made threats against them.

Later that month, another 20-year-old man was shot dead by police at Seaton after he allegedly got out of a car armed with a knife.

In his findings for the 2015 shooting, Mr Schapel said during the course of the afternoon and evening of the day in question “Mr Kuskoff had been making bizarre and at times, threatening phone calls to police communications”.

“At that time, Mr Kuskoff was in possession of what was a veritable arsenal comprising of several high-powered firearms including shotguns, bolt action rifles and handguns,” Mr Schapel said

Mr Schapel said it was clear that Mr Kuskoff — who did not have a criminal record — was “mentally disturbed” at the time.

Police attended his property with the intention of detaining Mr Kuskoff under the Mental Health Act but when officers arrived, they were confronted with gun shots.

Mr Schapel said Mr Kuskoff fired 37 rounds before he was shot twice by a STAR Group officer, who was positioned 141 metres away.

He fired three shots in total, the first missed Mr Kuskoff.

Deputy coroner not critical of the firing STAR Group officer

He said it was hard to be critical of the officer, given the SA Police directive to shoot the “centre mass”.

However, he said the firing officer — a qualified marksman and cordon commander on that day — and another officer were in a position that “exposed them to the danger that might be posed by Mr Kuskoff”.

“(The officers) had very little cover at the position from which they chose to conduct their observations,” he said.

He said the officers choice of position meant they exposed themselves to the possibility of random gunfire from Mr Kuskoff and in turn, exposed him to the risk they would have to return fire.








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