Slain cop’s partner on the moment that saved her life
The police partner of slain officer Senior Constable Brett Forte has become emotional as she described him as a "very ethical" man who knew the law "inside and out".
Senior Constable Cath Nielsen is today giving evidence at the inquest into her former partner's murder after she survived the shooting that killed him.
Sen Const Forte was killed on May 29, 2017, by known criminal Ricky Maddison, following a low-speed pursuit at Seventeen Mile in the Lockyer Valley.
The court heard Maddison's behaviour had become increasingly erratic in the days leading up to Sen Const Forte's murder, with the gunman having spent two months avoiding an arrest warrant over a domestic violence matter.
The inquest heard Maddison had been calling police in Toowoomba from pay phones, telling them "youse (sic) know where I am" and "I left enough trails".
On the afternoon of May 29, Maddison was spotted in Toowoomba and pursued by several police vehicles down the Warrego Hwy before he veered off the road.
Police followed him along Wallers Rd - a dirt road - where Maddison suddenly got out of his car and opened fire with an assault rifle.
Sen Const Forte was killed and Maddison held specialist SERT officers at bay for 20 hours before they shot him.
Sen Const Nielsen was in the passenger seat, with Sen Const Forte driving, when they were fired upon.
She told the court she was acting Sergeant of the Tactical Crime Squad at the time but was not aware of the details of an investigation into Maddison's whereabouts being conducted by the Tactical Action Team.
"In relation to the Ricky Maddison job, I was acting sergeant but I had no information in regard to that," she said.
Sen Const Nielsen said a week before the shooting, she had only found out incidentally that SERT officers were in Toowoomba looking for Maddison.
Sen Const Nielsen told the court Sen Const Forte had made a radio call mid-pursuit warning his fellow officers to be "very careful" of Maddison because he was known to have guns.
She said he had more knowledge of Maddison through his police officer wife, Susie, who had investigated him over domestic violence allegations.
"We were aware on that particular (domestic violence) job there was a firearm used," she said.
"So he was just relaying that information."
She said she and Sen Const Forte became the "primary" pursuit vehicle when they hit dirt roads because they were in a 4WD.
She said she had never driven along Wallers Rd before and she was not aware of Sen Const Forte having done so.
She said the mood in their vehicle changed when they hit Wallers Rd.
"It was obvious and I got in my head, he is taking us somewhere," she said.
"At the same time, Bretty said something similar. So we obviously both thought it at the same time.
"Definitely the mood changed.
"I made another call, where is Polair? We knew it was high risk ... it was our job to do."
When asked why she called Polair, Sen Const Nielsen said because Maddison was a dangerous offender.
"Especially, it was in farmland, there were a lot of shrubs," she said.
"It's always better to get poliair. It's best practice."
Sen Const Nielsen said it was "obvious" Maddison was taking them somewhere.
"Definitely the mood did change," she said.
"It was farmland. It was a dirt road, you've got trees everywhere."
She said they did not consider stopping the pursuit and was relying on information from communications and other areas.
"Yes he was dangerous, yes he was an armed offender," she said.
"They are not uncommon in Toowoomba."
Sen Const Nielsen said she had been considering a possible showdown with Maddison as they followed him along the dirt road.
She said she had considered having to use her taser and knew another police vehicle was behind to back her up should Maddison stop.
"He wasn't just going to let me put the cuffs on him and walk him to the car," she said.
Sen Const Nielsen said after 1km or so, he suddenly stopped.
"He was quick as anything," she said.
"He got out of the vehicle and stepped out and turned that way towards us ... and just started firing.
"He just got out, swung around.
"Because it was narrow and very steep and he was on top ... he was shooting down at us essentially.
"I couldn't believe it was automatic gunfire ... how does that happen?"
"At the same time I've got my gun out and started shooting through my windscreen," Sen Const Nielsen said.
"I continued shooting as we've gone down.
"Because what happened is Brett obviously got hit and that made the car swerve.
"And because where we happened to be … it was like a washout.
"That has saved my life, because it (the car) tipped on to Bretty's side."
Sen Const Nielsen described the efforts of her and her fellow officers smashing the windscreen of her car - while under fire - to free a terribly injured Sen Const Forte.
"The car was a mess," she said.
"It was like something out of the streets of Beirut.
"I started smashing it from the outside. It doesn't just smash ... it was quite hard.
"It took a long time to make a hole big enough to get Bretty out.
"I pulled him back on top of me and I guess that's when I realised the amount of blood.
"There was a bullet hole in his arm and there was no blood coming from it."
She said at one point she said "Bretty, can you hear me?" but his "colour had changed".
Sen Const Nielsen said she had suggested police should have higher-rated ballistic vests to investigators after the shooting.
"I know that would not have helped … I get that," she said.
"But when people with weapons, it's every day all around Toowoomba all around Queensland, we are faced with this more and more."
Sen Const Nielsen said officers needed more protection. "Our lives are worth it," she said.
She also raised the idea of police cars having reinforced windscreens, like the SERT-operated BearCat.
"Something like that would have given us more time to maybe get a bit more distance between us and him," she said.
Originally published as Slain cop's partner on the moment that saved her life