Man Shot by police
Man Shot by police

Police not properly warned before fatal siege

POLICE attending a stand-off with a mentally ill former industrial scientist who was fatally shot could have been better prepared had there been proper liaison with mental health services, a coroner has found.

Police were called to Alexander Kuskoff's Elwomple property, near Tailem Bend, in September 2015, after he made multiple "bizarre and at times threatening" phone calls to police.

Mr Kuskoff's family had contacted the SA Health Emergency Triage Liaison Service the day before, telling them he had a mental illness and a gun but was unlikely to be aggressive.

Police at the scene where Alexander Kuskoff was fatally shot by a police sniper during a siege at his Elwomple Rd property, near Tailem Bend. Picture: Dylan Coker
Police at the scene where Alexander Kuskoff was fatally shot by a police sniper during a siege at his Elwomple Rd property, near Tailem Bend. Picture: Dylan Coker

In his findings handed down on Wednesday, Deputy State Coroner Anthony Schapel said mental health services should have notified police about the concerns of Mr Kuskoff's family and that he had firearms in his possession.

"Proper liaison may well have resulted in an appropriately resourced joint presence of police and mental health services at Mr Kuskoff's property," he said in his findings.

"Clearly this would have been a much more manageable set of circumstances than what transpired later that evening."

Had police and mental health services jointly attended Mr Kuskoff's house earlier in the day, he found Mr Kuskoff "may have been in a less agitated state of mind".

Mr Schapel said there was "limited scope in this inquest for the making of meaningful recommendations".

However, he recommended police and mental health authorities discuss measures to "develop strategies to ensure that SAPOL are made aware of cases that might require its intervention" to prevent a repeat of what happened to Mr Kuskoff.

Police near Alexander Kuskoff’s property the day after he was shot. Picture: Dylan Coker
Police near Alexander Kuskoff’s property the day after he was shot. Picture: Dylan Coker

Mr Schapel also recommended SA Police reconsider its avoidance of "extremity shooting".

"There may be occasions in which the shooting of a person with the torso as a target, with an accompanying intention to kill, will not be regarded as necessary and reasonable or be seen as a proportionate response to the threat posed by that person," he said.

A sniper wearing night-vision goggles shot Mr Kuskoff, 50, twice - with the first bullet penetrating his forearm before entering his chest and a second bullet hitting him in the back - from a distance of 140 metres after a five-hour stand-off on September 16, 2015.

During the inquest the court heard Kuskoff was suffering delusions and psychosis during the stand-off and had fired at least 37 shots after making repeated rambling calls to emergency services in which he declared his farm as the "state of Elwomple" and himself as the tsar.

Mr Schapel said he had a "veritable arsenal comprising of several high-powered firearms including shotguns, bolt action rifles and handguns".

Police at the scene where Alexander Kuskoff was fatally shot by a police sniper during a siege at his Elwomple Rd property, near Tailem Bend. Picture: Dylan Coker
Police at the scene where Alexander Kuskoff was fatally shot by a police sniper during a siege at his Elwomple Rd property, near Tailem Bend. Picture: Dylan Coker

It heard STAR Group officers were called to the property to help uniformed officers.

Their mission was to keep Mr Kuskoff on his property "to keep it safe for everyone in the vicinity".

They aimed to detain Mr Kuskoff for a mental health assessment.

The inquest had also heard the officer who fired the fatal shots was not required to seek permission, but could fire if he felt there were "reasonable grounds necessary for the protection of life or prevention of serious injury".

That officer, known only as DA, fired three bullets.

In his evidence DA told the court he feared for his life as he knelt behind the scant cover of mallee scrub as Mr Kuskoff began firing.

Alexander Kuskoff’s property at Elwomple. Picture: Calum Robertson
Alexander Kuskoff’s property at Elwomple. Picture: Calum Robertson

He described seeing Mr Kuskoff fire at the police helicopter and before shooting around in an arc towards where DA and his colleague, an officer known only as AM, were positioned.

"It was one thing to have shots going off around but as soon as one has come straight back past you it suddenly starts to get very real that you're in real threat of being shot in the face, in the head, not going home to your family and all that sort of, I suppose, runs through your head very quickly in those times," DA had told the court.

"So when he was to discharge his rifle in our direction again, that's when I fired."

In his findings, Mr Schapel was not critical of DA, but said the position he and AM chose to monitor Mr Kuskoff was "sub-optimal" with scant cover from potential gunfire that "exposed them to the danger" of Mr Kuskoff's random gunfire.

"There was a significant possibility that Mr Kuskoff might fire in the general direction of the position where DA and AM were located," he said.

He said this also exposed the possibility they may need to return fire.

A forensic pathologist had told the inquest Mr Kuskoff would most likely have survived if he had been shot only once.

He said the fragment of one bullet caused a laceration to the left lung, allowing Mr Kuskoff's chest to fill with blood.

The forensic pathologist said Mr Kuskoff could have survived if he was treated in a timely manner.

SES search for bullets and other evidence at the property near Tailem Bend after the shooting. Picture: Dylan Coker
SES search for bullets and other evidence at the property near Tailem Bend after the shooting. Picture: Dylan Coker

"If he'd been treated by paramedics shortly after the injury, stabilised, and MedStar came to scoop him up and take him to a major hospital, like the Royal Adelaide Hospital, I think it would have been a survivable injury," he said.

A SA Police spokeswoman said police would examine Mr Schapel's findings and recommendations.

"As this was deemed a death in custody SAPOL will respond as required under the Coroner's Act and provide a report addressing the recommendations to the Police Minister within the next six months," she said.