The deputy state coroner will examine how SA Police handled a man’s “chronic” and “escalating” mental health condition in the lead-up to a fatal siege in rural South Australia in 2015.
- Inquest will hear from 23 witness and run between four and five weeks
- Man’s deteriorating mental state played out in calls to triple-0 and ATO, court hears
- Fatal siege took place on September 16, 2015
Livestock farmer Alexander Peter Kuskoff, 50, was shot dead by a STAR Group officer at his Elwomple property, about 100 kilometres south-east of Adelaide, after a five-hour stand-off with police in September 2015.
An inquest into his death — which is considered a death in custody — started in the South Australian Coroners Court today.
Counsel assisting the deputy coroner, Andrew Harris QC, told the court the inquest would look at the way SA Police (SAPOL) managed and responded to the “severe” mental health episode Mr Kuskoff experienced “over September 15 and 16”.
“[Experts will tell the court] it is likely that Mr Kuskoff was suffering from some chronic mental health condition for some years, just undiagnosed,” Mr Harris said.
Mr Harris told the court Mr Kuskoff’s deteriorating mental state played out across numerous “frantic and emotional” triple-0 calls to police and the Australian Tax Office in the lead-up to the siege.
In several recorded calls played to the court, Mr Kuskoff said that “God told [him]” his sister “had been raped” and would be “murdered”.
“It’s very clear that when the police did meet with her [Mr Kuskoff’s sister] she was unharmed,” Mr Harris told the court.
Mr Kuskoff also told SAPOL call centre operators he had “100 guns” and would “blow the legs off anyone” who entered his property.
“He announced to one of the call [centre operators] that he had declared a State of Elwomple … and that he ruled it,” Mr Harris said.
“These calls … demonstrate Mr Kuskoff’s increasing unwellness.”
‘Professionalism’ of call centre operators questioned by sister
The court heard that when local police arrived at the property on September 16, with the aim of detaining Mr Kuskoff under the Mental Health Act, Mr Kuskoff came outside “with his hands up”.
But Mr Kuskoff ran back inside when he saw he was “surrounded” by officers, the court heard.
The court heard that during the siege, Mr Kuskoff made several more triple-0 calls and fired numerous “random” shots into the air.
He was eventually killed when a STAR Group officer “felt his own life and that of a nearby colleague was in danger”.
Following the incident, Mr Kuskoff was found to have been in possession of a high-powered Russian rifle with 6.5 millimetre rounds and a 9mm pistol.
Both firearms were registered to Mr Kuskoff, who had a valid firearms license.
The court has previously heard police attended Mr Kuskoff’s property the day before the siege for a “routine firearms check”, but no firearms were seized on that occasion.
It heard a police officer had been called to Mr Kuskoff’s property in 2010, after reports he had threatened RSPCA staff, but no formal report was made in relation to the incident.
Mr Harris said it would be up to deputy coroner Anthony Schapel to decide the relevance of that decision to the siege and its outcome.
Mr Kuskoff’s sister Lennah Liemareff questioned the “professionalism” of the SAPOL call centre operators who spoke with her brother in the lead up to his death.
“It [the outcome] may have been softened, it may have been bettered, and it may have ended in a situation where my brother was not actually killed,” she said.
The inquest will hear from 23 witnesses and is expected to run for between four and five weeks.