Four NSW police officers have been charged with perjury and giving false evidence after they allegedly lied under oath during a Police Integrity Commission (PIC) inquiry into the shooting of a mentally ill man by police five years ago.
36-year-old Adam Salter was shot dead by police in his father’s house at Lakemba in Sydney’s south-west in 2009, just after he had attempted to stab himself in the neck.
The PIC recommended that the charges be laid in its report, which was handed down after the inquiry last year.
It also criticised the police investigation into the shooting for the way it was handled, especially regarding eyewitness accounts and the evidence considered in the findings.
According to the coroner’s report and other statements published in the media around the time of the incident, just before his death, Mr Salter was suffering from a psychotic episode and tried to kill himself with a knife.
He had a previous history of psychosis and was on medication at the time.
Mr Salter’s father called an ambulance and a number of police officers arrived shortly after the paramedics.
Mr Salter had been calm but became agitated while paramedics were treating him, so they called for police to help restrain him.
The police officers came into the room but instead of using non-lethal means to subdue him, one of them pulled out a gun and shot Mr Salter, who later died in hospital.
The four police officers told the inquiry that Mr Salter had a physical altercation with one of the officers before he was shot, but eyewitness accounts from Mr Salter’s father and paramedics denied there was any contact.
The ambulance officers unequivocally stated that Mr Salter was standing by himself at the sink and attempting to kill himself at the time, not threatening anyone else.
Charges laid, investigation criticised
Three of the four officers have been charged with perjury after allegedly lying to the PIC about the incident, while the fourth has been charged with one count of giving false evidence and has recently faced court.
During the subsequent critical incident investigation and reports later produced, the commission found that the evidence of the paramedics who were present at the scene was excluded or ignored, apparently in an attempt to prevent embarrassment to the police force and conceal the lethal error which had been made by the officer who shot Mr Salter.
The commission recommended that Detective Inspector Russell Oxford also face disciplinary action over the way he handled the police investigation into the incident.
The commission further recommended Inspector Matthew Hanlon and Detective Inspector Stephen Tedder face further action for their involvement in preparing misleading reports and documentation regarding the incident.
Latest perjury charges
This is not the only incident where police officers have been charged recently for lying under oath.
Earlier this year, six police officers were charged with perjury after it was discovered they had lied about a man’s allegedly violent behaviour before arresting him.
The arrest of 23-year-old Corey Barker in 2011 was investigated by the PIC, which found that the police officers had subjected Mr Barker to brutal and violent treatment and had subsequently claimed that he had assaulted a police officer.
The arrest took place after Mr Barker and some friends had been involved in a late night confrontation with the police in Ballina, on the NSW north coast.
Police had then arrested Mr Barker in a violent manner and left him handcuffed and locked in a police cell for an hour before charging him with assault.
The case was referred to the PIC after the magistrate reviewed CCTV footage that was previously claimed to have been damaged.
The footage showed police officers slamming Mr Barker into a bin and a chair and then swinging him into a machine before handcuffing him and dragging him on his stomach to a cell.
There was no sign that Mr Barker threw a punch or assaulted the police officers in any way at all.
As a result of this investigation, six police officers and former police officers were charged with perjury and assault as well as a range of other offences including concealing evidence and perverting the course of justice.
The charges against Mr Barker were dismissed and the police officers were found to have used excessive force against him.
The PIC performs an important role in the justice process by helping to make sure those police officers who are guilty of misconduct are suitably penalised and that there is an open and fair process of justice for those who are in the police force.
Allowing police to lie and cover up assaults, or even killings, goes against justice and creates an unfair system.
It also leads to a loss of public confidence in the police force, and compromises the safety of the rest of the community.