The murder of a respected Queensland police officer at the hands of a wanted man could have been prevented, a coroner has found.
Senior Constable Brett Forte, a tactical crime squad officer, was murdered by Ricky Maddison on Wallers Rd, Ringwood in the Lockyer Valley on May 29, 2017.
Travelling to the scene with his police partner, Senior Constable Cath Nielsen, the pair were in pursuit of Maddison, who was wanted over a serious domestic violence incident.
A wanted man
He’d been placed on the radar of the Toowoomba tactical crime squad for three months prior to the shooting but repeated attempts to arrest him had failed.
Maddison’s actions had also drawn the attention of Gatton police after reports of automatic gunfire in the Ringwood area.
Gatton police had been investigating automatic gunfire at Wallers Rd, Ringwood, with reports made to police about audible gunfire in the area being heard by residents in the weeks prior to the shooting.
The inquest found constables Forte and Nielsen were unaware of the Gatton investigation when they pursued him to Wallers Rd.
Maddison had led police through the streets of Toowoomba and then towards the Lockyer Valley in a dramatic chase before opening fire on the two senior constables.
It was there that constables Forte and Nielsen’s car was peppered with 27 bullets from an automatic weapon fired by Maddison.
Constable Forte hit an embankment as he was trying to avoid the heavy gunfire, rolling the car while Maddison continued to shoot at it.
Constable Forte was shot in the right arm and groin and died a short time later at the scene.
State Coroner Terry Ryan said none of the details of the investigation into audible gunfire were put on the police system QPRIME.
He said this had prevented police from passing on the information to colleagues when it became clear there was a police operation involving the two constables and other officers at the Wallers Rd property on May 29, 2017.
Mr Ryan said the events that occurred on Wallers Rd that day had the “hallmarks of an ambush” planned by Maddison.
“The confrontation on Mr Maddison’s terms while Senior Constable Forte and Senior Constable Nielson were, as Senior Constable Neilsen described, as sitting ducks,” he said.
Maddison was later killed by officers from the special emergency response team after a 20-hour siege at a Locker Valley property.
Fighting for Brett
Mr Ryan said he accepted Constable Forte’s wife Susan’s submission to the inquiry.
She was on duty as a QPS officer the night her husband was killed.
“It’s possible but not certain his death could have been prevented,” Mr Ryan said.
The inquest was told Mrs Forte had knowledge of Maddison’s history, having worked in the Toowoomba police domestic violence unit.
She had tried to call her husband when she heard over the radio that Maddison was being pursued.
Mrs Forte heard the moments of her husband being murdered over police radio.
She, along with Constable Nielsen, in the weeks after the shooting began asking questions about the lack of information provided to officers about Maddison and his history.
The inquiry was told that the women had each been the subject of bullying and harassment from QPS members since Constable Forte’s death because they’d asked questions.
The inquiry was told Senior Sergeant Fiona Hinshelwood had filed complaints for perjury and failing to report misconduct after Constable Nielsen gave evidence and Mrs Forte submitted a statement.
Mr Ryan said the decision to make those complaints, particularly before the inquest had finished, was unwarranted.
He said the treatment of the two women after they raised “legitimate concerns” about Constable Forte’s murder was disappointing.
He said both women were “victims of serious criminal offending” and were entitled to be treated that way.
Police operations in the spotlight
Speaking to reporters outside Brisbane Magistrates Court on Tuesday, Mrs Forte said she was disappointed with the lack of support she’d received from her QPS colleagues.
“The police investigation into my husband’s death has been disgraceful and nothing short of impartial,” she said.
“Any issues I asked questions about continued to be swept under the carpet.
“We asked questions and when we did, we were exposed to ongoing bullying, threats, gaslighting and manipulation by the very same people who took a pledge to serve others.
“Brett’s death was preventable, he was murdered in a very undignified way; however, it’s felt like this was dealt with by the Queensland Police Service as if Brett suffered a paper cut to his finger.”
Mrs Forte said the past six years had been difficult, and she hadn’t been able to grieve properly for her husband, but was “hopeful” she could now start that process.
“The emotional torture I’ve been subjected to has been worse than hearing my husband being murdered over police radio,” she said.
“I am a person of integrity and who would have respected those who told the truth.”
Constable Nielsen said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the coroner’s support.
“To hear some of those words and to know we’ve been believed and supported, that felt really good and I’m grateful,” she said.
Recommendations for better policing policies
Mr Ryan recommended a trial of a senior district duty officer being on call to provide overall management and leadership should become permanent at the level of senior sergeant in the Toowoomba region.
He also recommended the QPS implement “as a matter of priority” a solution to allow searches across all information systems and intelligence holdings to ensure frontline officers have access to reliable and current information.
Mr Ryan also recommended all QPS officers be regularly trained in relation to their obligation to enter intelligence information correctly within relevant QPS databases in a timely manner and the ongoing management of the databases.
He also recommended the QPS consider implementing a statewide instruction in relation to firearms assessments as a way to review “shots fired” incidents with clear expectations regarding investigations and reporting requirements.
Originally published as Queensland State Coroner delivers findings into Brett Forte, Ricky Maddison deaths