Police in ‘no knock’ drug raid prior to fatal plunge

Rex Martinich |

Police actions during a drug raid will be examined by an inquest into a man’s fatal balcony fall.
Police actions during a drug raid will be examined by an inquest into a man’s fatal balcony fall.

Police officers took part in a rapid entry drug raid with no door knock at a high rise building seconds before their suspect fell to his death.

The Queensland Coroner’s Court on Wednesday held a pre-inquest conference into the death of Mario Giovanni Merlo on August 18, 2021 at Ipswich, west of Brisbane.

Mr Merlo, 42, died after falling from the balcony of his 13th storey apartment within an estimated five seconds of police entering with a search warrant in relation to alleged drug supply.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Carolyn McKeon, told the conference Ipswich police officers had received intelligence reports that Mr Merlo possessed sawn-off shotguns and decided not to knock on Mr Merlo’s door prior to entering.

“The plan was to enter with the key rapidly, declare themselves as police officers and then detain all the occupants in the apartment,” Ms McKeon said.

Mr Merlo’s family have claimed that he was suffering from untreated paranoid schizophrenia at the time of his death, which led him to be “petrified of police”.

He was previously given an involuntary treatment order for an amphetamine-induced psychosis, but there are no records of him being formally diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The inquest will also hear claims that Mr Merlo feared returning to jail due to spending time in solitary confinement.

Mr Merlo had a nine-page criminal history dating back to 1997 and was on bail after spending seven weeks in custody for violating parole by testing positive for drugs and possessing methamphetamine.

On the morning of his death, police entered Mr Merlo’s apartment at 7.45am and yelled “police search warrant”.

Mr Merlo ran for the balcony and climbed over a glass barrier to stand on a 36-centimetre wide landing on the other side.

The officers saw Mr Merlo was appearing to move to the next door apartment and one officer grabbed at his clothes, but heard a rip as he pushed away.

Mr Merlo fell and hit his head on tiles surrounding the pool area below.

Following attempts at resuscitation, paramedics declared Mr Merlo dead at 8.06am from catastrophic head injuries.

Mr Merlo took a bag with him when he fled to the balcony, which was later found to contain methamphetamines and testosterone.

Police also found a shortened 12-gauge pump-action shotgun in the apartment.

The forthcoming inquest will examine whether the police officers involved acted in accordance with the policies and procedures then in force.

It will also examine whether the police ethical standards command investigation into Mr Merlo’s death was appropriate and sufficient.

Ms McKeon said the inquest would likely take two days and hear from three witnesses at a date to be set.