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Powering through the Swan River under blue lights, Acting Sergeant Brendan Packard and Senior Constable Rob Jennings were en route to a report of a man in distress, struggling in the water.

It was Saturday, August 27, 2016 and the middle of winter.

The duo didn’t have much more information other than the brief details in the CAD job. They didn’t know how the man ended up in the water, his swimming ability or how long
he had been immersed.

Leaving their North Fremantle base, the officers approached the incident with an open mind and made an assessment when they got to the scene.

It was a cold Perth day, where the maximum temperature hovered in the teens but the wind-chill tore through the officers’ uniforms making it seem like eight degrees.

They found the man, who appeared naked in the freezing water, with his arms wrapped around port navigation marker 4058 at the newly opened Elizabeth Quay. They didn’t know if he was drug affected or experiencing a form of psychosis.

Thirty knot west-southwesterly winds made it extremely difficult for Rob to manoeuvre the boat to enable Brendan to speak to the man, now identified as 35-year-old Nicholas John Walton. However, Rob was able to pilot the vessel into the wind so Brendan could speak with him.

Donning a life jacket, Brendan went to the bow of the boat and introduced himself to the dreadlocked man.

“I said can I help you mate, I’ll throw you a life ring and you can grab a hold of it,” Brendan said.

“But straight away he wasn’t making any sense.”

Walton introduced Brendan to the pylon and said things like ‘are you here to kill me’, she’s my mum, I can’t let her go’ and ‘can you see them, I can feel them getting me’.

Rob and Brendan persisted with Walton. They tried to communicate with him and threw him a floatation device.

However, after 20 or so minutes, they were no closer to resolving the impasse. Walton became delirious and unresponsive, so time was getting critical.

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Both officers knew the dangers associated with Walton being in the water for too long.

Their first concern was hypothermia.

Having no knowledge of how long he had already spent in the water, there was a risk that the man’s body would slowly start shutting down due to excessive loss of heat.

Hypothermia can slow brain activity, breathing and heart rate. It can also cause confusion, drowsiness and loss of coordination of a person’s limbs, which in this case, could be fatal.

They also had no idea of Walton’s swimming ability and were also concerned with the effects of hydrostatic pressure.

“This is where the lower half of the body is subject to a greater pressure than the top. You can see this in victims who are out at sea for a long time and it’s a factor in how you rescue them,” Brendan said. “The cool blood flow to the heart can make it fail.”

Due to the possibility of a medical emergency and a high level of concern for Walton’s  welfare, Brendan had no other choice; he had to get in the water.

A Department of Transport boat nearby allowed one of its officers to board the police boat to act as a deckhand for Rob while Brendan took off his accoutrement belt, put on fins and swam over the pylon.

Reintroducing himself, Brendon again tried to build a rapport with the man he had been speaking to now for about half an hour.

But it quickly emerged that Walton would not leave the water or release his hands from the pylon.

Despite the lure of a warm cup of coffee and a friendly chat, Walton said he still wanted to stay with “his mother” in the water.

At this point, Brendon communicated to Rob to bring the boat closer so that he could physically move Walton into the boat, saving his life.

From the water, Walton’s view of the boat was emphasised and its size visibility distressed him.

“That made him freak out,” Brendan said. “I had to physically move Walton from one side of the pylon to the other to stop him from getting squashed, but he let go and went below the surface and just sank,” Brendan told Police News.

Brendan grabbed hold of Walton who appeared hypothermic and without any ability to swim.

“I went below the surface and grabbed him in a rear rescue hold. At the same time I saw an object in his fist and my partner screamed there was something in his hands,” Brendan said.

From the boat, Rob saw a red flash and thought that Walton was armed with a knife. He was immediately concerned for Brendan’s life.

Fighting an armed offender on land is one thing, but struggling in the water whilst keeping yourself and another person afloat is exponentially difficult.

The red flash was the handle of an insulated screwdriver that Walton had hidden in his  shorts.

Brendan could see that it was coming straight for the main artery in his neck.

Brendan’s training automatically kicked in. He ducked his head and quickly reached for Walton’s wrist to keep the weapon away from him.

“I remember squeezing his wrist as hard as possible,” Brendan said.

“He was quite a built guy at the time and I remember my hand only going halfway around his wrist. I could feel his forearm muscles in my hand and could just remember squeezing as hard as possible trying to push it away. I was not letting go of it, no matter what,” he said.

Due to the rush of adrenaline pulsing in his bloodstream, Brendan had no idea that the sharp edge of the weapon sliced the side of his neck.

Rob yelled at Walton to put the weapon down and pointed his taser at him as a deterrent, knowing that he would not be able to use it.

Through gritted teeth, Walton yelled “I’m going to fucking kill you”.

Brendan had no use of force options available to him except his hands and no one was able to provide back up because they were in the middle of the Swan River.

With foam and spittle coming from Walton’s mouth, Walton’s aggression was clear. Brendan realised he had to use all of his power to get out of this situation alive.

“I can’t remember, but I hit him about 10 times. I remember elbowing him in the head and cut him quite well above his eye and I just looked at that cut and kept hitting him in the same spot,” Brendan said.

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Still trading blows in the water, Brendan managed to push Walton’s body off his while still holding his wrist. He was able to manoeuvre their bodies closer to the boat to enable Rob to use his baton to strike Walton’s arm a number of times.

“I would say he was definitely experiencing some form of excited delirium,” Rob said.

The baton strikes had little effect, with Brendan remarking that Walton failed to even flinch at the pain.

Kicking his fins furiously to keep both of their bodies afloat, Brendan managed to get his arm around Walton’s head to hold him in headlock while still pushing the weapon away
from his body.

After struggling and being submerged for a period of time, Brendan finally managed to pry the screwdriver from Walton’s grip.

Being a trained police diver, Brendan threw the weapon at the pylon knowing that divers could easily recover it from the river floor. They found it the very next day as an exhibit.

After a solid four or five minutes of intense fighting, Rob was able to throw Brendan a rope to tie around Walton to ensure his safety. He was hoisted onto the deck of the boat
where he was finally handcuffed.

Blood, sweat and salty water covered both Walton and Brendan.

“I like to think that I'm pretty fit but I was really knackered. Once I got the cuffs on him, I just felt a wave of fatigue come over me.

“I was just spent, I was fully drenched, I had blood coming out of my neck and had a PT shirt on which had a big hole in it from where the screwdriver had gone through.”

Brendan didn’t just suffer the injury to his neck, he also had an 18 cm cut down the inside of his right bicep and lacerations to his chest from the weapon.

“I realised I was pretty lucky, it could have gone pretty pear-shaped,” he said.

When backup did arrive at the Elizabeth Quay jetty, Walton admitted to using methamphetamine and was taken to hospital where he was sedated and underwent mandatory blood testing.

An off duty Superintendent, who happened to be at a nearby café, came over to the pair and congratulated Brendan and Rob on a fantastic job despite many factors working against them.

An email of support was also sent to their supervisors and up the chain of command.

Whilst the rescue was now over, the thought playing in the back of Rob’s mind was about the perception of police actions metres away on the bridge of Elizabeth Quay.

From the land, it could have been perceived that Rob’s actions of using his baton could have been extreme.

“Potentially, from witnesses on the shore it could have looked really bad – someone reaching over in the boat hitting a bloke in the water with a baton. My biggest fear at the time was that this was going to end up on the news and YouTube and we’re going to get criticised for excessive force because that could be the appearance,” he said.

Onlookers would have no idea that an armed offender was trying to seriously injure – even kill – a police officer.

Rob said he sympathised with police officers whose actions were only partially shown on social media or the nightly news.

“I feel for coppers who are doing their job but things are taken out of context and the full facts aren’t known,” he said.

There were no issues with how Brendan and Rob effected the arrest, and were in fact praised for their bravery and courage.

Back on land, Brendan also had concerns of his own.

X-rays were taken at Fiona Stanley Hospital and his injuries were treated while his very concerned and worried wife was by his side. Blood was also taken from Brendan to ensure that
he did not contract any communicable diseases from Walton.

In a terrible overlap of timing, Brendan and his wife were forced to cease trying for a baby while waiting for results.

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“Over the next three months I had more sets of blood taken and didn’t get my results until May the next year,” he said.

So for that time, the pair was not able to be intimate and dreams of a baby screeched to a halt.

“It was an extra stress we didn’t need at the time,” he said. “I certainly didn’t see it coming when I went to work on that Saturday.”

Brendan said he received welfare support from Health and Safety, his OIC, sergeant and WAPU.
He also undertook recommended sessions with a psychologist to address the trauma and potential outcome that could have been a reality that day. Brendan also addressed some hypervigilance he experienced after the incident.

After his experience, Brendan has encouraged all officers who have gone through critical or serious incidents to take up the offer of psychological help.

Due to Walton not being under hospital guard, he absconded from hospital and was on the run for about a year until he was found and apprehended.

On March 20, 2018, Walton appeared before Chief Magistrate Steven Heath in the Perth Magistrates Court charged with assault public officer (prescribed). He pled guilty and received an eight month custodial sentence.

By Jessica Porter