A 29-year-old man with a mental illness who was shot dead by police — including eight shots fired as he fled — was an “intelligent, real, honest” man whose condition deteriorated with methamphetamine use, a coroner’s inquest heard today.
By Guyon Espiner for rnz.co.nzRead:AI-based clinical assistant Kahun raises $8m
Jeremy Thoms was shot dead by police after a 40-minute car chase that ended at 4am on a deserted highway near Pohoy, north of Auckland, on March 31, 2018.
Toms got out of his car, which had been hit three times by police road bolts, and advanced on two officers wielding a machete.
The officers fired four shots as Toms walked towards them and another eight as he fled.
An inquest into his death opened today in Auckland District Court before Coroner Bell.
The inquest heard that in the hours leading up to his death, Jeremy’s mother, Joan Thoms, had called the police to request a check-up of care for her son, who had bipolar disorder.
But when the police arrived at the Toms’ home in the Oakland suburb of Onyonga, Jeremy was neither there nor his car, so the officer deleted the job from the police alert system.Read:Girls’ mental health ‘on a precipice’ as thousands in ‘deep distress’
This meant that when officers — codenamed Constable A and Constable B to protect their identities — confronted Toms on State Highway 1, they were unaware of the emergency call his mother had made or his mental health history.
A 2019 report by the Independent Police Conduct Authority said police had acknowledged that it was “inappropriate” for the officer who carried out the well-being check at Toms to remove the post from the alert system after finding out he was not home.
“The sad answer is no” – a medical specialist to provide more care
The inquest heard today from a medical professional — whose name and occupation has been suppressed — who assessed Toms about two weeks before he was shot and believed that drug use precipitated his relapse.
The doctor said he was an “intelligent, original and honest” man whose mental health had been affected by drug use.
He told the court that in the four years since the accident he had asked himself “about 20 times” if he could give Toms any extra care. “In my view the sad answer is no.”Read:Mike Tyson Reveals Not Getting Medical Help for 5 Years After Brutal Motorcycle Accident
But the mental healthcare that Toms received is under scrutiny in the investigation.
Documents before the coroner show that the Auckland DHB Mental Health Unit reviewed the level of care Tom received in the weeks leading up to the shooting.
“Physicians told the review team that increased pressure on the family means that the discharges occur when patients are stable enough for intensive community follow-up rather than when they are completely stabilized,” the review states.
For Toms, the lack of bed space meant he would be released before “complete resolution of his moods and psychotic symptoms”.
Toms was just weeks away from being a father for the first time. “He talked about his dreams and seeing his daughter,” said the specialist who saw Toms two weeks before he was shot. “Unfortunately, that did not happen.”
Toms’ mental health records say his marijuana use “usually destabilized his mental state by increasing his paranoia” and that he “occasionally used methamphetamine.”
Toxicology tests found small traces of methamphetamine, cannabis and alcohol in Toms’ blood after he was shot.
Police asked a coroner about the effect of methamphetamine but he said that “it is not possible to link the postmortem level of methamphetamine in the blood to specific behaviour”.
Officers met Toms after he had stolen petrol from a service station and had been driving erratically, including stopping to threaten police with a machete as well as to smash his taillights.
In the final confrontation, Toms walked up to the two policemen wielding a machete and got within three meters of the two before they opened fire, striking him twice in the chest before he turned and ran away.
The autopsy results showed that both chest wounds were fatal in themselves. The back wound—one of the eight bullets fired as he fled, penetrated his right and lower right back—was serious but classified as “non-fatal”.
The officers continued shooting even after Toms dropped his machete on the road and the last shot was fired when Toms was unarmed and 14 meters away from the police.
Police are scheduled to testify at the inquest on Monday.