Man shot dead by corrections officer was no threat: mum

The mother of an Indigenous man who was shot dead as he fled from custody has told a coroner that her son posed no threat before he was killed.

But Kerry Shanahan says she holds no animosity towards the correctional officer who shot her son, adding he was only doing his job.

Dwayne Johnstone, a 43-year-old Wiradjuri man, was shot dead outside Lismore Base Hospital as he ran in leg shackles from a prison van after receiving treatment in March 2019.

An inquest in Lismore is probing the circumstances of his death, including policies and regulations surrounding the use of firearms by correctional officers.

Ms Shanahan told the inquest on Thursday that she agrees with correctional officers carrying guns as the weapons could sometimes be necessary to perform their duties.

"But not in my son’s case," she said.

"He was no threat."

Peggy Dwyer (file image)
Peggy Dwyer said Corrective Services have already implemented significant reforms.

The inquest also heard from Mr Johnstone's partner at the time of his death, Kirsty Pepper, who remembered him as loyal, artistic and charming.

"Dwayne had this tough-man exterior when I first met him," she said.

"That soon dropped."

On the night of Mr Johnstone's death, Ms Pepper said a friend told her that a male inmate had been shot, but she was unable to get any information despite several calls to police and the hospital.

As a result, Mr Johnstone died alone.

"The process to me has been a circus from the start," Ms Pepper said.

"Nothing in my mind will justify the way Dwayne died.

"I want there to be change."

Ms Pepper said she hopes the inquest will result in reforms, including for next-of-kin notification and rules of engagement for correctional officers.

Counsel assisting Peggy Dwyer told State Coroner Teresa O'Sullivan, who is overseeing the inquest, that she intends to make a significant recommendation in terms of legislative change.

“Corrective Services have done a very thorough review … and have already implemented significant reforms," Dr Dwyer added.

The inquest previously heard Mr Johnstone struggled with medical conditions and addiction issues, which led him to trouble with the law.

Ms Shanahan described her son as a "loveable larrikin".

"I loved my son very much," she said.

"I did not love the man he became.”

Ms Pepper said she and Mr Johnstone had talked every day after they met in 2017, and they had also discussed starting a family.

"I will never have kids with Dwayne, I will never see his infectious smile,” Ms Pepper said.

"Going from having the love of my life next to me, to the next day not having him there is soul crushing."

The officer who shot Mr Johnstone was charged with manslaughter in February 2021 and the allegation was upgraded to murder in August 2022. 

His first trial resulted in a hung jury in November 2022, then a second trial ended with a not-guilty verdict in November 2023.

The officer cannot be legally identified.

13YARN 13 92 76

Lifeline 13 11 14

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