Coroner finds police 'justified' in Grafton shooting death
A CORONIAL inquest has found a senior police officer was "justified" in shooting a drug-affected and psychotic man wielding a knife during a violent stand-off in Grafton.
Christopher Peter McGrail, 44, died after he was shot twice following a violent rampage at a North St duplex where he threatened to kill a woman and stab several others, which resulted stand-off with police in North St on August 6, 2017.
Deputy state coroner Elaine Truscott said Grafton Police Sergeant Dallas Leven acted in self-defence when during the stand-off he fired two shots after Mr McGrail raised the knife and lunged at him, despite many commands and requests to drop the knife.
Ms Truscott found that at the time of the stand-off Mr McGrail was experiencing a "complex interaction of the effects of methamphetamine and alcohol intoxication, a substance induced psychotic episode and a severe disturbance of mood with expression of suicidal thoughts".
In her findings, Ms Truscott also said that Sgt Leven, a 25-year-veteran of the NSW Police Force, did "all he could to avoid this tragic outcome" and deserved praise for "the leadership he provided to his junior officers and their engagement in attempting to de-escalate and resolve the incident".
"I am of the view that Sgt Leven's discharge of his firearm was justified, having regard to the circumstances which he faced," she said.
"He was acting within his duty as a police officer and he was acting in self-defence. Sgt Leven had every reason to believe that he was going to be seriously injured or killed.
"I find that Sergeant Leven exhausted all tactical options available to him and, in discharging his firearm, did so in compliance with NSWPF policy, procedure and training practice guidelines. I consider that his actions were reasonable and proportionate to the threat that he faced."
During a three-day inquest held in Grafton earlier this year, the coroners court heard Mr McGrail had four children with his partner Amanda Skinner but their relationship was strained by domestic violence, with Mr McGrail serving several jail sentences for assaulting her.
The court heard Mr McGrail's life spiralled out of control and his drug use escalated after his 18-year-old son Clinton took his own life in 2015.
In the month prior to the deadly stand-off Mr McGrail threatened to blow up a petrol tanker, assaulted a taxi driver and Ms Skinner at a shopping centre.
The court heard Mr McGrail also began to develop a paranoia over the NSW Police Force, and blamed them for the death of his son.
About 3pm on August 6, 2017, Mr McGrail visited a duplex on North St in a highly agitated state and accused the occupants of the house as being undercover police. The court heard the violence escalated when Mr McGrail threatened to kill a woman with a hammer, held a knife to the throat of another man, and stabbed another in the forehead, telling the occupants of the house at one time "we will all be dancin' in heaven tonight with my son".
As a result of a triple-0 call, three officers from Grafton Police Station arrived on the scene about 3.45pm. Shortly after they arrived Mr McGrail again armed himself with a knife and repeatedly threatened police, refusing multiple requests to drop the weapon.
The three officers retreated 90 metres as they attempted to disarm Mr McGrail before he raised the knife, advanced, lunged at them and was shot twice.
Giving evidence at the inquest, Dr Kerri Eagle said Mr McGrail had likely developed a substance induced psychotic disorder and had experienced at least one psychotic episode during or soon after taking methamphetamine.
Dr Eagle also said Mr McGrail had a severe substance use disorder and unresolved grief and loss as a result of his son's death.
The inquest heard Mr McGrail made many references to the concept of "suicide by police" and was captured on police video footage saying during the stand-off "I want to be shot", "I want to be with my son", and "you have to shoot me". The court was also that while Mr McGrail was at the North St duplex he threatened to kill a victim and held a knife against their throat and said "you are gonna die today … Do you know what SBP is? … It's called suicide by police. They are gonna put a bullet in my head and the only way they'll do that is if I kill you".
Ms Truscott while Mr McGrail did repeatedly urge the police to shoot him through the stand-off "I do not think that an injury causing death which is inflicted by another can be described as a self-inflicted death".
"Whilst I accept Dr Eagle's evidence that Mr McGrail was capable of forming the intention to end his life and forming an intention to do so by provoking police to shoot him, I am unable to positively conclude that he would have formed this intention absent the effects of his psychosis and intoxication," Ms Truscott said.
Ms Truscott extended her sincere condolences to Ms Skinner, Mr McGrail and Ms Skinner's children and to the McGrail family.
"Mr McGrail's death after the loss of Clinton is profound. I hope that Ms Skinner's daughters have her strength and with her support they come to terms with their loss," Ms Truscott said.
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