Trauma-affected police officer asked colleague to investigate death before suicide

As former police officer Ashley Bryant stood on the platform above a waterfall on the NSW North Coast he made a final phone call.

It was about 8.30pm on December 16, 2013, when he dialled the number of friend and colleague, Detective Inspector Matt Kehoe.

Mr Bryant, a father of three who had been medically discharged from the NSW Police Force a year earlier, sounded “clear and concise” as he spoke.

He said he wanted Mr Kehoe to investigate his death, something Mr Kehoe couldn’t promise.

“I knew from the call I got from him that if I made that promise to him, I knew what he was going to do,” Mr Kehoe told an inquest into Mr Bryant’s death on Wednesday.

Moments later Mr Bryant killed himself.

 An inquest into the 44-year-old’s death in the NSW Coroner’s Court is examining what support was given to the detective sergeant as he struggled with post traumatic stress disorder, depression and alcohol abuse.

The inquest will also examine whether the police force needs to change the way it assesses the risk of officers developing mental health issues and how it supports former and serving officers with psychological injuries.

As a “hard-working” police officer with 24 years experience, who had responded to many murders and suicides, Mr Bryant knew every 000 call was recorded.

This was one of the last numbers he dialled before ending his life west of Byron Bay.

“I understand this is being recorded and I suffer from PTSD,” he told the 000 operator in a chilling call played to the inquest.

“I now live with the trauma of it and I know this will go to the coroner. There needs to be more things put in place for partners of those that suffer … ”

The operator asked Mr Bryant if he could wait for police to get to him.

“No, I’ll be gone before they arrive, thank you,” he replied before the line went dead.

Growing up in the Mid-North Coast town of Port Macquarie, Mr Bryant was an athletic teenager who spent his spare time surf lifesaving and training with his older brother.

He earned the nickname “ice man” at the police academy because he drank ice water while everyone else downed alcohol, the inquest heard.

That changed after he joined the police.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Ian Bourke, said there was clear evidence that Mr Bryant struggled with the affects of PTSD, depression and alcohol abuse in the lead-up to his discharge from the force in 2013.

Over the years he went from going off alcohol completely to downing up to 10 drinks a night. At one point he had his police firearm taken off him after he was aggressive towards work mates.

Mr Bryant spoke to some about the traumatic jobs that haunted him.

There was the drowning of husband and wife, Carole and Joseph Sherry, at South Ballina Beach in 2010 and a murder-suicide at Casino.

He had also worked in the Unsolved Homicide Team, including on the high-profile cold case involving Sydney teen Trudie Adams.

In 2012, Mr Bryant was working as a detective sergeant at Ballina police station, which was understaffed and overworked, the inquest heard.

The NSW Police Force were notified about his PTSD in March that year as he was treated by a psychiatrist, psychologist and GP.

It was around this time he sent Mr Kehoe, his superior the Richmond Local Area Command, a text message.

“I just can’t stomach this job any more, I need some time away,” Mr Bryant wrote on March 13, 2012.

Over the next few months, Mr Kehoe checked in on Mr Bryant, meeting him for coffee in Byron Bay and walking the iconic lighthouse track.

Asked about how Mr Bryant felt around this time, Mr Kehoe said: “He was at least looking forward to the future outside of the police.”

In December, 2012, Mr Bryant was medically discharged from the police.

Then he awaited a decision on whether he would get an early superannuation payment, which depended on how his level of disability was assessed.

In 2013, a psychologist on behalf of the superannuation fund assessed Mr Bryant as someone who could return to work in a job less stressful than police work.

He would get partial remuneration, not full.

His brother, Jason, a former police officer who left the force with psychological and physical injuries in 2009, said insurers assessing Mr Bryant’s injury claim were getting him down.

“He said words to the effect of how he was changing case officers all the time and he was worried about where he was going to end up financially,” Jason said.

Mr Bryant was staying in Lismore at the time, in student accommodation, after moving out of the family home in Port Macquarie.

Hours before he died, he had a psychologist appointment with his wife, Deborah. She told him he could move back home if he stopped drinking.

Mr Bourke said Mr Bryant stood up, said words to the effect of “I can’t do this any more”, and left the room.

He then “must have driven directly to Minyon Falls”, Mr Bourke said, getting beer and a bottle of scotch whiskey on the way.

The inquest before State Coroner Michael Barnes continues.


Original Story

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