Coroner's Court of Western Australia

Inquest into the Death of Thorvald Anthony NIELSEN

Inquest into the Death of Thorvald Anthony NIELSEN

Delivered on:15 June 2020

Delivered at: Perth

Finding of: Coroner Jenkin

Recommendations: Yes

Recommendation No. 1

Prior to any deployment, all vehicles being used in a TRG operation should be checked to ensure that between them, those vehicles are carrying a sufficient number of medical/first aid kits.

Recommendation No. 2

As a matter of urgency, the TRG should consider developing standard operating procedures (SOP’s) with respect to snatch arrest operations and these SOP’s should include a requirement to consider the safety of any person assisting the Police, as well as any bystanders. To the extent that the TRG’s current resources are insufficient to enable the timely development of SOP’s in relation to snatch arrests, those resources should be made available to the TRG immediately.

Orders/Rules: N/A

Suppression Order: Yes

Suppression Order No.1 (made on 16 March 2020)

  1. there be no reporting or publication of the name, picture or any other identifying features of the witnesses referred to as Tactical Operator 33, Tactical Operator 42, Tactical Operator 17, Tactical Operators 19 and Tactical Operator 6;
  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 Negotiators Unit; and
  4. there be no reporting or publication of the sections of the Police Manual that are applicable to the Western Australia Police Force Tactical Response Group as a specialist unit.

Suppression Order No.2 (made on 16 March 2020)

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.

Suppression Order No.3 (made on 17 March 2020)

there be no reporting or publication of the sections of the police policies referred to in Exhibit 1, Volume 1, Tab 38 of the Brief.

Suppression Order No.4 (made on 18 March 2020)

there be no reporting or publication of the details of any of the versions of the WA Police Firearms Policy, being FR-01.02.

Suppression Order No.5 (made on 30 April 2020)

there be no reporting or publication of any portion of the Police Tactical Group Operations Manual produced by the Australia-New Zealand Counter Terrorism Committee (version April 2016).

Summary: Mr Nielsen died on 13 April 2017 in a carpark adjacent to the Darlington Tennis Club, from multiple gunshot wounds. Mr Nielsen, who was then 29 years of age, was shot by officers from the Western Australian Police Force’s Tactical Response Group (TRG) in circumstances where he was armed with a shotgun and the officers reasonably believed that their lives (and the lives of others) were at imminent risk.

Sometime between late December 2016 and early January 2017, a shotgun and a rifle (the firearms) were stolen from a rural property near York. Police suspected that Mr Nielsen was responsible for the theft of the firearms and as it transpired, when he was shot by TRG officers, Mr Nielsen was found to in possession of the stolen shotgun. In April 2017, police suspected that Mr Nielsen was involved in three separate “fail to stop” incidents. In relation to the third incident, police eventually located the abandoned car they had been chasing and found a wallet containing cards in Mr Nielsen’s name.

At the time of his death, Mr Nielsen was living with his partner in Northam. She was unaware of any criminal activity on his part and he was very secretive about his movements. Mr Nielsen was the subject of a suspended imprisonment order, and he developed an irrational belief that if police arrested him, he face a lengthy jail term. He had also told his partner and others that he would not willingly surrender to police and instead, would take his own life. Police were aware of Mr Nielsen’s threats and his deteriorating mental state and they strongly suspected that he may be in possession of the firearms. For that reason, police regarded Mr Nielsen as a serious threat to himself and the public and they were “strongly motivated” to apprehend him.

On 13 April 2017, Mr Nielsen arranged to meet his partner at the Darlington tennis courts at about 5.30 pm. His partner had told police about the meeting and was aware that Mr Nielsen was to be apprehended, but she was told that this was so that he could receive a mental health assessment. Mr Nielsen’s partner was not told that police strongly suspected that Mr Nielsen was in possessions of the firearms and she subsequently said that if she had been made aware of this, she would not have assisted police by arranging the meeting with Mr Nielsen.

Mr Nielsen arrived at the tennis courts in a car driven by an acquaintance. His partner was already there and he got out of his car and spoke with her briefly. However, when she said: “It’s not safe here”, Mr Nielsen headed back to his car. As he did so, TRG officers in several cars moved in and ordered Mr Nielsen to stop. He ignored these orders and instead, got back into his car and closed the door. He then unwrapped a shotgun located in the front passenger footwell and pointed it at his chin. By this time, TRG had surrounded Mr Nielsen’s car and they repeatedly ordered him to put the shotgun down and get out of the car.

A TRG officer opened the front passenger door and again, officers repeatedly ordered Mr Nielsen to drop his weapon. Mr Nielsen did not respond and a TRG officer fired a TASER at him through the open driver’s side passenger door. Although one of the TASER probes hit Mr Nielsen’s cheek, the other missed and the TASER was therefore ineffective.

Mr Nielsen continued to ignore the orders of the TRG officers to drop his weapon and instead, he pointed the shotgun at officers on either side of the car. By this time, Mr Nielsen’s partner was standing close to TRG officers on the passenger side of the car and was also yelling at Mr Nielsen to put the shotgun down. In fear of their lives and the lives of others, four TRG officers fired a total of five shots into Mr Nielsen’s body. The five shots were fired within a matter of a few seconds and caused Mr Nielsen to slump forward in his seat.

A police officer who was observing events ran forward and managed to move Mr Nielsen’s partner to safety, but not before all five shots had been fired. The TRG officers removed Mr Nielsen from the car and gave him first aid. Contrary to established practice, none of the TRG vehicles at the scene were carrying first aid kits and officers were obliged to use their own personal kits. The shotgun was removed from the care and found to be loaded. An ambulance took Mr Nielsen to hospital, where he was declared deceased.

Catch Words: TRG Operations : Use of Force by Police : Snatch Arrest: Appropriate Risk Assessments : Multiple Gunshot Wounds : Homicide by way of Self-defence.

Last updated: 3-Mar-2021

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