A policeman who wrongly chased Elijah Holcombe down a NSW street triggered a “cascading disaster” that left the mentally ill university student dead on the ground, an inquest has heard.
In the final days of a long-running inquiry, NSW coroner Mary Jerram has been urged to find Senior Constable Andrew Rich should never have pursued the 24-year-old down an Armidale shopping strip in June 2009.
The psychology student, who suffered delusional paranoia, ran into a cafe mid-chase, grabbed a bread knife and fled into a laneway where the officer fatally shot him.
“Elijah was being wrongly and inappropriately chased by a police officer with a view to an arrest,” counsel assisting Jeremy Gormly SC told the Sydney inquest.
“There was a cascading disaster: a mentally ill man, known to be mentally ill, being chased by a police officer, fearing police, fearing that he was going to be arrested and sent back to America or whatever was going on in his ill mind – it had all the makings of an event that was going to end badly.”
Mr Holcombe had voluntarily attended Armidale Hospital that morning but checked himself out.
The plain-clothes officer had been sent to find the Holcombe family car, which Mr Holcombe had taken, but has told the inquest he wanted to detain Mr Holcombe and return him to hospital.
Mr Gormly and James Sheller, representing Mr Holcombe’s family, argued the officer did not have sufficient grounds to do so.
Mr Gormly criticised Sen Const Rich’s actions after Mr Holcombe had picked up the knife, saying he should have engaged him with questions to defuse the situation, instead of ordering him to drop the weapon.
The police officer claimed he shot Mr Holcombe in self-defence after Mr Holcombe roared “shoot me, shoot me” and ran towards him.
Mr Sheller wants the coroner to reject the police officer’s explanations for pursuing and firing on Mr Holcombe.
“The pursuit was unlawful,” Mr Sheller said.
“There was no movement by Elijah before he was shot.”
Ms Jerram suspended the inquest in October 2010 and referred the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to bring criminal charges against Sen Const Rich.
But in 2012, the DPP said the case for self-defence was too strong.
The inquest continues.