THE detectives who shot Sydney handyman Rodney Elkass after he pointed a gun at one of them on a busy suburban street acted reasonably, though a coroner has found it likely they did not identify themselves as police.
The coroner, Hugh Dillon, described as a ”tragedy” the death of Mr Elkass, 37, from a gunshot to the head as he sat in his Toyota Hilux on a Castle Hill street in broad daylight on September 29 last year.
He found that Mr Elkass had almost certainly not known that three men running towards his car were police.
They were responding to a radio warning about a man with a gun.
Mr Dillon recommended that the police force consider issuing identifying jackets or hats that plain-clothes officers could quickly put on.
”I don’t think that Mr Elkass did know that he was being called on by police,” Mr Dillon said, dismissing the evidence of two of the police who said they had identified themselves.
”The weight of evidence suggests that that word wasn’t used, or if it was that it was obliterated by shouting or other noise.”
But Mr Dillon found that Mr Elkass had, nevertheless, pointed his gun at one of the detectives, Paul Rosano, refuting claims from the Elkass family that the weapon had remained in his lap.
He based this on the evidence of the three police involved, corroborated by a local mother who witnessed the shooting.
The evidence of another civilian witnesses, who claimed that Mr Elkass had not pointed his gun but raised his hands in the air, was dismissed on the basis that it was unclear whether the witness had ducked her head just before the crucial moment.
”The police had a reasonable belief, therefore, that Detective [Paul] Rosano was in immediate danger of being shot and they responded accordingly.
”Once Rodney picked up the gun and pointed it at Detective Rosano, that really closed off any other options for the officers. Their reaction was instantaneous but reasonable.”
The coroner found that, despite pointing his weapon at the officer, Mr Elkass had not intended to use it.
Rather, he had probably believed that the three men approaching him were somehow connected to an earlier confrontation with two men who tried to instigate a fight because of a long-running feud.
The two-week inquest previously heard that after Mr Elkass scared the two men away with his gun, they later made a bogus phone call to the police in which they claimed they had been the victims of a random road-rage incident. This was the catalyst for the police confrontation with the 37-year-old.
This incident was one of a number of what Mr Dillon described as ”what ifs” and ”but fors” in the case.
Among these, he said, was the fact that seven months before the shooting a police officer had discovered Mr Elkass was not keeping his gun in a safe as required by law, but he had been allowed to keep the weapon.
Mr Dillon recommended that gun ownership laws be changed so there could be no doubt among police officers that in such circumstances guns must be seized.
This recommendation, along with that relating to plain clothes officers having access to police-identifying clothing, were the main suggestions made by the coroner.
An Elkass family request that the coroner recommend the police force no longer be involved in the investigation of such incidents, on the grounds that they could not be impartial and objective, was not taken up.
Acted reasonably … left to right, Detective Michael Wilkins, Detective Paul Gardiner and Detective Paul Rosano. Picture: Tamara Dean.
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