Jeremy Holcombe cannot sleep. He cannot work, he cannot relax and he is obsessed with bad news. He was hospitalised with panic attacks on the third anniversary of his son Elijah’s death in June this year.
The physical manifestation of his grief continues, unabated.
Then came the letter from prosecutors late last month, indicating they would not be pursing the police officer who shot the mentally ill Elijah Holcombe for murder or manslaughter, despite a coroner’s view that such charges could be proffered.
For Mr Holcombe, this was just another heart-wrenching chapter in the tragic saga – as another is only just beginning. Mr Holcombe and his late wife’s estate have launched civil action against the State of NSW, claiming the Holcombes have suffered greatly from the ”unlawful” and ”negligent” conduct of Senior Constable Andrew Rich and his employer, the NSW Police Force.
In particular, they claim he did not heed warnings about Elijah’s mental illness and was not justified in shooting the man who health workers simply wanted to be returned to hospital for treatment.
Documents filed with the NSW District Court outline the repeated alerts issued over the police system warning officers searching for the 24-year-old that he ”suffers from mental health issues and is extremely frightened of police – use caution when dealing with – concerns he will run”.
Just hours earlier, Elijah had presented at Armidale police station to return his father’s car, which he had used to flee his parents’ home in Narrabri, and requested hospital treatment. He was taken to Armidale Hospital where nurses expressed concerns for his mental state, but as a voluntary patient he could leave whenever he pleased. He did – but worried health workers asked police to help find him and bring him back, so alerts were issued asking patrol officers to keep an eye out.
About 4pm that day he was spotted, and an officer began a pursuit, chasing Elijah through a mall, a cafe and then into a laneway. Senior Constable Rich called out to Elijah: ”Stop or I will shoot.”
Armed with a bread knife grabbed in the cafe, but still at least eight metres from the officer, Elijah turned to face Senior Constable Rich and was fatally shot with a single bullet.
”Elijah died because of the unlawful and negligent conduct of [the officer],” the Holcombes argue in their negligence suit. ”There is no reasonable possibility that [the officer’s] response was a reasonable response to the circumstances as he perceived them … [He] was not acting in self-defence … at the time of the shooting, [the officer] knew or ought to have known that Elijah had not committed or was not committing an offence which warranted the use of lethal force.”
Police said they could not comment on the case because it is before court.
Jeremy Holcombe told The Sun-Herald he wished no ill on anyone involved in Elijah’s death but hoped at least a civil court could adjudicate on what occurred.
His solicitor, David Sweeney, added: ”People often get relief when there’s recognition of their injustices.”
The State Coroner, Mary Jerram, shut down the inquest into Elijah’s death in October 2010, referring the case to the DPP for consideration of charges. The case will now return to her at a date in the future, while the civil case returns to court later this month.
The Holcombes’ criminal solicitor, Philip Stewart, told the The Sun-Herald he had urged the coroner to resume the inquest, taking evidence from the remaining listed witnesses.
”One would hope that the police have the fortitude to allow themselves to be questioned,” he said.
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