Questions after death of Oamaru man


July 29, 2019 - 102 views

Communication between police and mental health services relating to an Oamaru man who ''just needed help'' after an incident the day before he died more than four years ago has been questioned at at coronial inquest. 

Wayne John Ross (46) was found dead at a commercial Oamaru premises on June 13, 2015.

A coronial inquest into his death, presided over by Coroner Sue Johnson, of Christchurch and set for two days, started at the Oamaru District Court today.

Much of the opening day was dedicated to questions about the circumstances that led to the arrest of Mr Ross on an assault charge the day before he died, the subsequent communication between police and mental health services after concerns were raised about his mental state, and the police decision to grant him bail that day.

Non-publication orders were put in place around the reporting of some of the circumstances of his arrest and how he died.

Arresting officers Sergeant Tony Woodbridge, of Oamaru and Constable Nick Turner, of Dunedin and formerly Oamaru, were questioned at length about the June 12 incident at a Wansbeck St address, which resulted in Mr Ross being charged.

Waitaki Mental Health Services unit manager Paul Cullen, who assessed Mr Ross for risk, was also questioned.

The incident unfolded about 11am when police received a report that a woman, Kelly Ross, had earlier had hot coffee thrown over her by her husband at an Oamaru cafe.

When police arrived at the address, a distraught Mrs Ross told police her husband had ''taken off'' in his vehicle.

She showed them damage Mr Ross had caused to the property, which included drawers being emptied and clothes strewn around a bedroom, and household items smashed in the lounge room.

Mr Ross returned to the property with prescription medication and alcohol to find police there, which angered him.

He was asked who he was when he arrived by Const Turner, who had earlier secured two firearms found at the property in a patrol car.

One of those was an air rifle, which Sgt Woodbridge had earlier told the inquest Mr Ross pressed to his chin and threatened to shoot himself that day.

After he swore at police, Mr Ross lunged at his wife and pushed her to the ground, Sgt Woodbridge said.

He was then arrested and initially resisted police, before he was handcuffed and attempt was made to lead him from the property.

However, he headbutted a glass window near the front door and smashed it, cutting himself.

He was quickly taken to a patrol car, and transported to the Oamaru police station.

While en route, he told police he ''just needed help'', which Sgt Woodbridge said he would be given that day.

Concerned for the mental state of Mr Ross, Sgt Woodbridge called the mental health service shortly after noon.

Mr Cullen arrived about three hours later and met with Mr Ross for about 40 minutes.

He told the inquest Mr Ross said that he was'' definitely not suicidal'' but ''needed help for anxiety''.

He did not believe Mr Ross had a ''major mental health illness'' that required treatment, despite the earlier incident with the air rifle, and was told by Mrs Ross at the inquest that she was angered by his decision not to contact his family about mental health concerns.

Mr Cullen told the inquest he was ''not sure'' if that would have made a difference.

The pair arranged to meet again a few days later on June 15 and considered there was no need for action under the Mental Health Act, given the assurances Mr Ross had given him, which included volunteering for treatment.

Based on that assessment, which also included conversations by Sgt Woodbridge with Mr Ross' GP Dr Chris Rohrbach and his lawyer Emma Middlemass, it was decided to grant Mr Ross bail.

Sgt Woodbridge said Mr Cullen told him Mr Ross was an ''angry man'' who was ''not really fitting into the mental health area''.

Mr Cullen did not consider his report to be a major factor in granting Mr Ross bail, but admitted to the inquest he was ''presuming'' that.

Mr Ross initially requested to be bailed to his wife's Arun St address, which Sgt Woodbridge said was not suitable as there ''was no one to look after him there''.

He was instead bailed to an address of a relative of Mrs Ross in Towey St.

When asked by lawyer Anne O'Brien, who was appointed to the court to assist the Ross family, why bail was granted, Sgt Woodbridge said his concerns were ''more about mental wellbeing and family harm incidents rather than the charges'', as bail was not usually opposed to assault charges.

the inquest continues

Where to get help

Healthline: 0800 611 116
Lifeline Aotearoa: 0800 543 354
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Samaritans: 0800 726 666
Alcohol Drug Helpline: 0800 787 797
General mental health inquiries: 0800 443 366
The Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757
Homecare Medical: 24-hour 1737 free text/phone
Youthline: 0800 376 633, txt 234 or talk@youthline.co.nz
What's Up (for 5-18 year olds; 1pm-11pm): 0800 942 8787
Kidsline (aimed at children up to age 14; 4pm-6pm weekdays): 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline)

Citizens Advice Bureau: 0800 367 222

Family Services Directory: 0800 211 211 or www.familyservices.govt.nz/directory

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