The relatives of Steve Pampalian, who was fatally shot by police in Sydney, Australia during a psychotic episode, are urging the police department to either withdraw their statement that he was “known to police” or provide proof to back up the assertion.
The request is in response to the NSW Greens’ accusation that the police have been controlling the story surrounding individuals who have been fatally Tasered or shot in the past few months, such as Clare Nowland and Krista Kach.
In May, Steve was fatally shot in his driveway in North Willoughby after he charged at the police wielding two knives.
The next day, Assistant Commissioner Leanne McCusker informed journalists that he was a familiar figure to the police. In response to a query, she stated, “Yes, he has been on the radar of the police, but I would say it has been minimal.”
Eddie Pampalian, the brother of Steve, stated that he believed his brother had a conflict with law enforcement that he was not aware of at the time.
However, he asserts that he has been informed twice by law enforcement, after inquiring about his brother’s presence on their surveillance, that Steve was not actually recognized by them.
The family was informed individually at the time of his passing that the notification process took longer than usual due to Steve not being in their records.
“Many individuals believed he was insane and a wrongdoer,” stated Eddie Pampalian to Guardian Australia. “If this is not accurate, we are requesting for the police to withdraw their statement and offer an apology.”
The NSW police stated that they could not provide a comment due to an ongoing investigation into the shooting.
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Sue Higginson, the justice spokesperson for the NSW Greens, expressed her worries about the incidents involving a 95-year-old great-grandmother, Clare Nowland, being Tasered by police and Krista Kach being fatally shot by a bean bag round.
She stated that there are internal and cultural efforts being made to manage the accurate narrative.
The first statement released by the police regarding Kach’s death stated that she had used an axe to threaten both residents and officers, and then barricaded herself in her apartment. However, there was no mention of any potential mental health concerns.
The statement indicated that “a variety of strategic choices” were employed, including a Taser, to detain her nine hours later. However, there was no mention of bean bag rounds.
Kach, who was described by some media outlets as an “axe-wielding woman,” died after being Tasered by police. The following day, Assistant Commissioner Peter McKenna stated that he could not provide any information on whether she was dealing with mental health problems.
According to Higginson, Kach’s family believed that the information given by the police was biased and misrepresented the story. This prompted them to release their own statement four days after her passing.
The family issued a statement to the police, clearly stating that the individual was not feeling well and required medical assistance. They also mentioned that the situation was brought on by the news of her impending homelessness.
“Our mother was not a threatening individual, she endured challenging situations but she was a compassionate and capable individual who showed care for others and her family.”
Higginson also drew attention to the disclosure that important information regarding the event resulting in Nowland’s passing was omitted from the original press release issued by NSW police.
Previous versions of the statement indicated that a choice was made to omit information about Nowland holding a knife and being Tasered. An email from Elizabeth Deegan, the executive director of public affairs for NSW police, also raised concerns about including Nowland’s age in the release, although it was ultimately included.
Guardian Australia asked for details about Steve Pampalian’s previous interactions with the police before he was killed, as well as any communication pertaining to the initial press release issued after his death.
Details regarding Steve’s potential notoriety with law enforcement were not made public, and electronic communications and preliminary versions of the media statement were only partially revealed as per the freedom of information regulations.
McCusker approved the media statement without any changes but documents that showed the “thinking processes” of the officials involved in its drafting – including opinions on what information to release about the incident that led to Pampalian’s death – were not released.
The authorities stated that this action could possibly discourage officials from expressing their opinions in written form.
The police declined to share emails related to the media statement they created following Kach’s passing. The emails provided to Guardian Australia were heavily censored.
Prior to Kach’s passing, the police had presented evidence to a coronial inquiry regarding the documented deadly distance of beanbag rounds.
However, this data cannot be disclosed. The authorities have obtained orders prohibiting the release of any evidence pertaining to their strategies by stating that it could jeopardize future operations.
The coronial inquiry was investigating the passing of Todd McKenzie, who was experiencing a psychotic episode when he was fatally shot by police in Taree in 2019.
According to Sam Lee, a top lawyer at Redfern Legal Centre, there is a potential conflict of interest involved in requesting documents from the police through FoI.
According to the speaker, the issue with requesting police-related information is that the police are the ones deciding whether or not to disclose it. This creates a conflict of interest.
Lee contended that when a serious event took place, law enforcement would often enter a state of “protection mode” and “damage control”.
I believe that the story – not only regarding these shootings, but also with police shootings in general when there is a concern about the individual’s mental state – involves a certain amount of secrecy because the blame is not something you want to acknowledge.
Lee and Jeremy King, a lawyer from Victoria who focuses on police misconduct in Melbourne, believe that there should be an impartial ombudsman to oversee cases involving police shootings or potential crimes.
According to King, the concept was brought up during the royal commission in Victoria that focused on the mental health system. This would entail police refraining from making statements about an event in which they may be responsible.