The Woman Shot By Police Outside A Hungry Jack's Might Have Been Schizophrenic, Court Hears
A coronial inquest is investigating the death of 22-year-old Courtney Topic in 2015.
A woman shot dead by police after waving a knife outside a Hungry Jack's restaurant in Western Sydney was potentially suffering from undiagnosed schizophrenia when she died, a court has heard.
Courtney Topic was 22 when she died from a gunshot wound to the chest on February 10, 2015. She was standing on a grassy patch outside Hoxton Park Hungry Jack's holding a 30cm-long knife.
Her death is now the subject of a coronial inquest before magistrate Liz Ryan that began on Monday in the New South Wales Coroner’s Court.
Several members of her family, including mother Leesa and father Ron, were at court for the first day of the inquest and wept through parts of the proceedings.
A lawyer acting for the family told the court they had been "shocked" by the death of their daughter.
"Courtney came from a close and loving family, many of whom are here today," the lawyer said. "She held a regular job at Woolworths and had never come under the attention of police. [Her death] was sudden, unexpected, and violent."
The court heard that Topic did not drink alcohol or take illicit drugs. She was referred to youth counselling service Headspace after leaving high school and was diagnosed with having either Asperger's or a mild form of autism.
She had also told psychologists she had experienced suicidal thoughts, and had been prescribed antidepressants in the years leading up to her death.
The day before she died, Topic had finished a shift at Woolworths at 7pm and then had dinner with her family, the court heard. The following day she left the house at 11am and walked for 2km clutching the knife.
Witnesses saw Topic hold the tip of the knife pointing towards her stomach and use it to brush her hair out of her face, the court heard.
There will “never be a definitive explanation" for the “out of character” actions taken by Topic on February 10, counsel assisting the coroner Gerard Craddock SC told the court.
He said there is evidence she may have been suffering from undiagnosed schizophrenia, and stressed that her mental state at the time of the shooting is a crucial factor.
“Her social cognition deficits and internal preoccupations likely resulted in her inability to respond as may have been expected to the police requests,” he said.
The first two officers to arrive at the scene in a car had their sirens and lights on, Craddock told the court.
They honked the horn at Topic when they spotted her standing on a patch of grass by an intersection, and then parked before approaching her.
Forty-one seconds later, she was dead.
Police had used capsicum spray and attempted to deploy a defective taser before shooting Courtney in the chest, the court heard.
Craddock said that before arriving at the scene, the two officers who first attended did not recall being told details by a radio operator indicating Topic was showing signs of mental illness.
They did recall being told her gender, what she was wearing, and that she was holding a knife, the court heard.
The inquest will examine police training, policy and procedure when it comes to dealing with people exhibiting signs of mental illness.
The lawyer acting for the Topics said the family had several questions it wanted the inquest to consider, including what information police had about Courtney before arriving at the scene, what threat she posed, why police approached in the manner they did, and whether that had acted in accordance with protocol.
Magistrate Ryan addressed the Topic family at the start of the inquest, saying "you never expected anything like this to happen".
"Ronny and Leesa, everyone in this court feels most deeply for what you have suffered," she said.