Coroner's Court of Western Australia

Inquest into the Death of Ly Minh TONG

Inquest into the Death of Ly Minh TONG

Delivered on : 29 November 2021

Delivered at : Perth

Finding of : Coroner Jenkin

Recommendations :Yes

Recommendation No. 1

The Western Australian Police Force policy on the Use of Interpreters should be amended to provide that when a person requires the services of an interpreter, wherever possible, family members and/or friends of that person are not used as interpreters.

Recommendation No. 2

Where it appears that the death of a person has been caused or contributed to by any action of a member of the Western Australian Police Force (the Police), then in order to ensure that communications between the Police and the deceased’s family members are effective and timely, the Police should task a suitably experienced senior police officer to undertake early, regular and ongoing contact with the deceased’s family members.

Recommendation No. 3

In order to improve operational awareness within the Western Australian Police force, information about the roles and capabilities of the Tactical Response Group and the Regional Operations Group should be disseminated to all general duties police officers.

Orders/Rules : N/A

Suppression Order : Yes

On the basis that it would be contrary to the public interest I make an Order under section 49(1)(b) of the Coroners Act 1996 (WA) that :

  1. There be no reporting or publication of any document or evidence that would reveal police policies and standard operating procedures, tactics, or training methods in relation to the use of force, including, but not limited to, firearms.
  2. There be no reporting or publication of details about the decision making criteria, response times, resourcing and any other operational aspects of the Western Australia Police Force Tactical Response Group.
  3. There be no reporting or publication of the methodologies, response times or resourcing of the Western Australia Police force Tactical Response Group.
  4. There be no reporting or publication of the details of any of the versions of the WA Police Emergency Driving Policy and guidelines, including, but not limited to, any cap on the speed at which police officers are authorised to drive.

Summary : Mr Tong was 38-years of age when he was shot dead by police in his home on 22 November 2018.  As a result of information obtained from family members, police believed that Mr Tong was holding his mother hostage at knifepoint.  Police attended and Mr Tong was shot as he ran towards the officers screaming unintelligibly.

Mr Tong lived with his parents and other family members in Beechboro.  He had a history of polysubstance use including benzodiazepines, heroin and methylamphetamine and he had been admitted to hospital on numerous occasions with drug induced psychosis.  These admissions were associated with self-harm ideation and aggressive behaviour and threats directed towards members of his family.  Mr Tong was also diagnosed with emotionally unstable personality disorder, and although he sometimes engaged with community mental health services and/or his GP, this was usually only at times of crisis related to his illicit drug use with medication.

As a result of Mr Tong’s aggressive behaviour and threats, his father obtained a Violence Restraining Order (VRO) against him, that was served on Mr Tong on 30 June 2018.  Despite one of the terms of the VRO preventing Mr Tong from living at the family home, he continued to do so.

At about 7.00 am on 22 November 2018, Mr Tong and his father got into an argument about a DVD player that quickly escalated.  Mr Tong’s mother tried to intervene and calm the situation, but Mr Tong pushed his father to the ground and, on one version of events, also pushed his mother.  Later that day, Mr Tong asked his father if he could borrow the car and when his father refused, Mr Tong reacted angrily.  Mr Tong’s father was concerned Mr Tong would assault him again and he drove to his daughter’s house to ask her to take him the local Police station, saying he wanted Mr Tong to go into “rehab”.

At the Police station, Mr Tong’s sister interpreted for her father who only speaks Vietnamese.  Mr Tong’s father and sister (the Tongs) told police about the altercation that morning and that Mr Tong had assaulted his mother and father causing injuries.  The Tongs also told police that Mr Tong was alone at home with his mother and had threatened to kill her and police if the police attended the family home.

As a result of this information, police rushed to the vicinity but due to a miscommunication, instead of gathering at a rendezvous point, two police officers drove straight to the family home.  On arrival, police spoke to an elderly woman who was with two small children.  Police had been unable to determine Mr Tong’s age using their in-car computer and therefore assumed that the elderly woman was Mr Tong’s grandmother.  In fact she was his mother.  Unbeknown to the police, in addition to Mr Tong’s mother and the two small children, Mr Tong’s twin nephews were also in the house, locked in the bedroom they shared.

Mr Tong’s mother and one of the small children pointed to a bedroom at the back of the house when police asked where Mr Tong was.  As police advanced slowly down a hallway towards Mr Tong’s bedroom, his mother (who did not speak English) called out in Vietnamese that the police were there to see him.  Police repeatedly called on Mr Tong to surrender but he did not do so and police heard sounds coming from Mr Tong’s bedroom which one of them thought was a firearm being assembled.  Because police had not identified Mr Tong’s mother, they were very concerned that she was being held hostage in Mr Tong’s bedroom.

One of the police officers kicked open Mr Tong’s bedroom and called on him to surrender, but instead of doing so, Mr Tong began screaming and ran towards police in a threatening manner.  Police believed Mr Tong was armed with a knife and were in fear for their lives.  One of the police officers made a split-second and shot Mr Tong three times with his police pistol because he believed he was about to be stabbed.  In fact, Mr Tong was not armed and he died at scene from chest injuries.

Meanwhile, the Tongs were still at the Police station when police were advised that Mr Tong had been shot and killed.  Instead of immediately advising the Tongs about what had happened, senior police directed a probationary constable to interview the Tongs while they worked out what to do.  However, as the Tongs were being interviewed, Mr Tong’s sister received a call on her mobile from a family member telling her that Mr Tong had died.  As the Tongs were leaving the Police station, the Officer-in-Charge and the probationary constable followed them into the carpark and asked the Tongs to sign notes that had been taken while they were being interviewed.

The Coroner made three recommendations dealing with the appropriate use of interpreters by Police; the appointment of police liaison officers in the event of a death caused or contributed to by police; and suggesting awareness training as to the availability of specialist staff and resources.

The Coroner was satisfied that the use of lethal force by the police officer was justified by the circumstances he was faced with and in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Criminal Code and the Police Manual.

Catch Words : Police Shooting : Mental Health : Illicit Drug Use : Interpreters : Police Liaison Officer : Training as t the availability of specialist staff and resources : Homicide by way of self-defence.

Last updated: 21-Mar-2022

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