Family speaks out as inquest finds police restraint death was accidental

By agency reporter
June 21, 2018

The inquest into the death of Rashan Charles has concluded with the jury finding his death was “accidental”, and that the officer employed “justified use of force”, but did not take appropriate action for medical emergency.  Rashan, a 20-year-old black man died following restraint by Metropolitan Police officers in Hackney, East London in the early hours of Saturday 22 July 2017. Rashan was a father to a young daughter and has been described as caring and generous by his family.

The coroner did not leave the option for the jury to come to a more critical conclusion, such as neglect or unlawful killing, saying she did not believe a “reasonable jury could see this”. The jury gave a conclusion of accidental death with a narrative which found:

  • Rashan demonstrated resistance during restraint, and police brought him to the ground to get better control of him through “justified use of force”
  • Officer BX47 did not follow prescribed police protocol for when someone is not breathing and suspected of swallowing drugs
  • The impact of the bystander who assisted in the restraint was not managed by the police officer
  • The officer failed to call an ambulance using the override button on his police radio
  • None of the actions taken by the police medic or paramedics contributed to Rashan’s death

The officer involved in the restraint of Rashan, who was given anonymity and referred to as BX47, was a Territorial Support Group officer. BX47 gave evidence explaining he went in pursuit of Rashan after he exited a vehicle which had been ‘acting strangely’. However, BX47 had no knowledge of or intelligence on Rashan, or the other men in the vehicle. CCTV footage shows the officer following Rashan into the shop and immediately attempting to restrain him. They struggle, then Rashan is swiftly taken to the floor by the officer. At this point a bystander, known as Witness 1, becomes involved in the restraint, assisting in handcuffing Rashan as he thrashes on the floor saying nothing. Body camera footage shows that at one point Rashan grasps toward his face, then his arm was taken back and handcuffed.

The officer then turned Rashan on his side, and begins to tell him to “spit it out”. Another witness who had been in the shop gave evidence saying, “When the cuffs had gone on I saw Rashan’s face and I thought – he’s in trouble.” Independent medical expert, Dr Jasmeet Soar believed it was at this point that purposeful movement from Rashan stopped. He was unable to determine when Rashan stopped breathing or started choking, and noted it was difficult to recognise this, even for experts. However, Dr Soar believed it would have been some time before Rashan was turned over, as deterioration in breathing is “gradual not sudden”.

Two witnesses, instructed by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, gave evidence on police procedure. Both were former officers of the Metropolitan Police. One remains an employee, the other continues to work as an external trainer through his own company. They said officers are trained that if you suspect a person has swallowed drugs, treat it as a medical emergency; if you perceive drugs are still in the mouth you can attempt to remove; and if you suspect choking you should commence first aid such as abdominal thrusts.

The second witness on police restraint training, Martin Graves, also gave evidence explaining it was “nigh on impossible” to conduct a mouth search single handily, and officers are trained to do so in groups which include a safety officer to monitor breathing. Despite explaining differences between the training and practices seen in the videos, neither of these witnesses saw any breach of procedure in the actions of the officer.

Since Rashan’s death the Metropolitan Police have suspended the use of mouth searches, pending an ongoing review on the tactic. The Coroner will be making a Prevention of Future Deaths report, highlighting issues raised.

The family of Rashan Charles said: “Rashan Charles was a young father and an integral part of his family. He is greatly missed by all of us.

"We believe the IOPC investigation was flawed from the outset. We were left out of key decisions, evidence was excluded, police worn video missing and time frames manipulated. This felt to be a predetermined process by the IOPC, the Metropolitan police and the CPS.

"The submissions by the family barrister were overturned in court and evidence dismissed. However, it is important we afford due respect to the jury who had to make a decision based on the limited evidence and confines put upon them.

"The two expert witnesses on restraint had 75 years combined service in the Metropolitan police, and one [is]still serving. This appears to us neither objective, independent or impartial. The police projected a criminal caricature of Rashan even after his death. This successfully served to detract from the events of 22nd July 2017.

"We are not adversaries of the police. This is about the conduct of individual police officers. However, the absence of admission of any responsibility does not stall community relations by weeks or years, but sets it back generations.

"This part of the flawed system is over, our work to receive answers continues.”

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST said: “It is difficult to reconcile the harrowing footage of Rashan’s death, and the outcome of this inquest. The Coroner and lawyers representing the police were keen to highlight the context of gangs, drugs and violence in Hackney, in order to deflect attention away from the conduct of the police. Yet Rashan was completely unknown to these officers. It is clear the officer lost sight of Rashan’s safety and humanity, and of the well-known dangers of restraint.

"This death occurred in the context of a systemic pattern of disproportionate use of force against young black men, along with over policing and criminalisation. This process has not delivered the accountability that this family and the public need.”

Kim Vernal, the solicitor representing Rashan’s family said: “This inquest into Rashan’s tragic death has revealed deficiencies in the training of police officers with regard to choking risks. In particular, in circumstances where an individual is suspected of putting an item in their mouth. It was apparent from the evidence that it is not always clear to officers when a person is choking and when breathing is abnormal. This must be addressed if another tragedy is to be avoided. Officers should be taught, if in doubt, to err on the side of caution and do not presume a person is resisting. It is also hoped that the Metropolitan Police will think twice about reinstating it is [sic] dangerous policy on mouth searches.”

* INQUEST https://www.inquest.org.uk/

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