Blame the Home Office if another black person dies in police custody (The Guardian)

Stafford Scott, The Guardian

Many families have sought to understand exactly why a loved one has died while in the custody of the police. The failure of the Home Office to release the long overdue report by Dame Elish Angiolini into such deaths is appalling.

According to the justice charity Inquest, since 1990 there have been 1,061 deaths in custody with barely a handful of prosecutions of any police officers involved. (I have supported a number of families in their quests to find answers). Needless to say there have also been no convictions of a police officer implicated in these deaths, even though several inquest juries have delivered verdicts of unlawful killing.

The still unpublished report, which the Guardian has seen, says that there is “evidence of disproportionate deaths of black and minority ethnic people in restraint-related deaths.” And according to a statement from Inquest: “Black people are disproportionately more likely to die following the use of force by police.”

Had the Angiolini report been published in the summer of 2016 – as promised by the then home secretary, Theresa May – and its recommendations acted upon, there is a possibility that lessons would have been learned that would have made deaths like that of Rashan Charles last July – while being apprehended by police – less likely: video footage shows the 20-year-old being wrestled heavily to the ground by a uniformed officer.

We will never know, sadly, but what we do know is that since May left the Home Office there has been a change in position. Rather than seeking to hold the police to account, the Home Office now appears to be giving ever more support to whatever the police wish to do, particularly with the black community. It was only last month that the home secretary, Amber Rudd, backed the Met police’s increase in stop-and-searches on young black youths.

For those of us who have been engaging with such issues for a long time, we know that this will not lead to less knife crime. More unnecessary stop-and-searches will only lead to a further loss of confidence in the police from the black community. The same goes for the failure to release the Angiolini report.

It really is no surprise that relationships between the police and black communities across the country are at an all-time low. Black people are at least four times more likely than white people to be stop-and-searched; twice as likely to be Tasered; twice as likely to be arrested and charged; more likely to be convicted and to receive longer custodial sentences. Black people are even more likely, especially black women, to have the “spit hood” used on them by police.

The home secretary should be holding the police to account instead of covering their backs by not releasing this critical report. Families who lost loved ones at the hands of the police may not have received what they considered to be justice through the courts, but they would want to know that there has at least been some institutional learning from their losses – that this won’t happen to anyone else again.

Rudd’s reluctance to give them that meagre sense of justice is truly baffling – and while she sits on this report, the likelihood that someone else will die in police custody increases. Should this happen then the blood trail will lead all the way up to the Home Office, and the home secretary herself.

 Stafford Scott was a co-founder of the Broadwater Farm Defence Campaign in 1985, and is now a consultant on racial equality and community engagement

It’s time for police to admit their mistakes (New Statesman)

Already this summer, four people have died after contact with the police. At least three of them were black men who died following police restraint. Last Saturday, 20-year-old Rashan Charles lost his life after being pinned to the floor of a convenience store, and restrained by an officer and another person in plain clothes.

These deaths aren’t included in the latest annual report from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which covers the year ending 31 March 2017. But the deaths of Rashan, Edir Frederico da Costa, Darren Cumberbatch, and a 16-year-old boy, who died in a crash during a police pursuit, recall those who have lost their lives during or following police contact in the months preceding them: Mzee Mohammed, Dalian Atkinson, Mohammed Yassar Yaqub.

Between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017, there were 32 road traffic fatalities involving police, an increase from the previous year and the highest since 2008-09. In the same period, there were 55 fatalities from “apparent suicides following police custody”. Six people died from “police shootings”, the highest since 2007/08. Fourteen people died “in or following police custody”, and there were 124 “other deaths following police contact” independently investigated by the IPCC.

“Deaths in or following police custody” is not as high compared to other categories, however deaths that happen while a person is being arrested or taken into detention are some of the most controversial. That there was no reduction in the number who died in or following police custody, compared to the previous year, suggest past mistakes are being repeated and systemic failures persist.

Over half of the 14 deaths were of people with schizophrenia, depression or self-harming or suicidal tendencies. Similarly, two thirds of the 124 who died following other police contact had mental health issues.

The most common reason for this other type of police contact was related to the safety or wellbeing of those who lost their lives. Twenty-six people died from the police responding to their health, injuries, intoxication, or a “general” incident, while 23 people died from the police responding to a concern about their self-harm, risk of suicide, or mental state. Of these 23 people, 35 per cent were black and minority ethnic (BME).

The individual stories show an even more disturbing picture than the raw numbers. Officers often encounter people with mental health conditions, yet treat them as criminals. In the case of Mzee Mohammed, he remained in handcuffs even when he finally received medical care. The police should be called as a last resort to deal with someone having a mental health crisis, but in many cases of deaths in custody, evidence shows they take it upon themselves to intervene.

In 2014, Staffordshire police handcuffed and detained Darren Lyons, who had a history of mental illness and alcohol dependency, instead of getting him medical help. An inquest heard he died after being left half-naked on a cell floor, covered in his own faeces. Similarly in 2012, Thomas Orchard was left lying unresponsive, after being put in restraints and having an emergency response belt wrapped around his face.

Although the police do not have the expertise of mental health workers, they are trained in using force proportionately, reasonably and when necessary. Members of the public experiencing a mental health episode have complex needs and it can be hard to understand the condition they are suffering from to provide appropriate assistance. This is a challenge for police officers, however using force can exacerbate a situation and even lead to death. In 2016, Dalian Atkinson, at the time suffering a mental health crisis, died after being Tasered and physically restrained by West Mercia officers.

The charity Inquest reports that the majority of its police-related cases in recent years “have involved the death of vulnerable individuals in some form of mental health crisis”. Its analysis in November 2016 of deaths in police custody since 1990 suggested that the “use of force/restraint is more likely to be a feature of the circumstances of BME deaths in police custody” and “the proportion of BME deaths in custody where mental health-related issues are a feature is nearly two times greater than it is in white deaths in custody”.

Earlier this year, an inquest jury criticised the Metropolitan Police for excessive, unreasonable, unnecessary and disproportionate restraint on Olaseni Lewis, a 23-year-old black man, who died in 2010 at a psychiatric hospital.

Deborah Coles, director of Inquest, drew attention to the fact that the “evidence heard at this inquest begs the question of how racial stereotyping informed Seni’s brutal treatment”. Met officers, instead of attending to Seni’s welfare, left him once he was unresponsive after prolonged restraint, because they believed that he may have been “faking it”. This disregard of a black life recalls the institutionally racist death of Roger Sylvester in 1999.

Seni’s case was pivotal in leading to the independent review into deaths in police custody, conducted by Dame Elish Angiolini QC. The publication has been postponed, on many occasions. The delay follows a common experience bereaved families constantly have with the police, the IPCC and the Crown Prosecution Service in their struggle for justice.

Despite deaths related to Tasers, spit hoods and firearms, the police have recently called for increases in such equipment and weapons. The Police Federation say they are necessary to protect the protectors. But the protectors are not protecting everyone.

The figures and individual stories show that some officers are threats to vulnerable people, in particular those with mental health issues and from ethnic minorities. Forces have failed to implement recommendations, while the CPS has failed to prosecute unprofessional and abusive police officers. “The officers involved in the restraint have not been able or willing to offer any word of condolence or regret in their evidence,” Seni’s parents responded after the inquest into their son’s death.

To prevent more needless lost lives, the police must first take responsibility and admit their mistakes.

Carson Cole Arthur is policy and communications co-ordinator at the campaign group StopWatch. He is writing in a personal capacity

Father accuses authorities of delaying inquest into son Olaseni Lewis’s police restraint death at Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham (Croydon Guardian)

The father of a graduate who died after being restrained by police at a psychiatric hospital has accused authorities of trying to delay an inquest into his son’s death.

Olaseni Lewis, 23, never regained consciousness after being pinned down to the floor by 11 officers when he became agitated in the care of staff at Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham on August 31, 2010.

The South Norwood IT graduate was rushed to Croydon University Hospital in a coma, but died four days later on September 3.

A senior coroner today criticised agencies involved in an inquest into his death as “disgraceful” and said they had been “disrespectful to the court and the family”.

Since his death, Mr Lewis’s family have endured more than five years of legal struggles to discover the truth about his death, including a successful High Court battle to overturn the findings of the original police inquiry.

Croydon Guardian: Loving son: Seni and his mother Ajibola

Olaseni Lewis with his mother Abijola

Last September it emerged that Devon and Cornwall Police had opened a fresh investigation into Mr Lewis’s death on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), to determine if the Metropolitan Police Service and the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust (SLAM) should be charged with corporate manslaughter and gross negligence.

However, his family are concerned the police probe will delay a full inquest into his death.

And at a pre-inquest hearing today, the detective leading the investigation admitted the file would not be handed over to the CPS until late next month.

Following the proceedings at Croydon Coroner’s Court, Conrad Lewis said the agencies under investigation were “definitely” trying derail the inquest into his son’s death.

He added: “It’s a process that has been drawn out and it has effects on us every day – especially when people are trying to delay the issue.”

Earlier, in court, senior coroner Selena Lynch said she was “incredulous” at how slowly enquiries were progressing.

During a ten-minute grilling of a lawyer representing SLAM over issues surrounding the disclosure of documents, Ms Lynch said: “The attention to this [case] from the agencies involved has been disgraceful. It has been disrespectful to the court and the family.”

A start date for the full inquest, which is expected to last 10 weeks, has been provisionally set for January 2017 depending on the outcome of the current police investigation.

Mr Lewis, who was known as Seni, was admitted to Bethlem Royal Hospital on August 31, 2010 after two days of uncharacteristically odd and agitated behaviour following a night out with friends.

Hours later, at about 9.30pm, police were called to the hospital after staff reported Mr Lewis “causing a disturbance”.

At least 11 officers arrived and restrained the 23-year-old. During the struggle Mr Lewis “became passive” and “seriously unwell”, according to police, and an ambulance was called to take him to Croydon University Hospital.

On September 3 scans revealed the Kingston University graduate had suffered brain stem death. His life support was switched off the following day.

Following his death, his mother Abijola Lewis said: “We don’t know exactly what happened. We do know they called the police and he ended up in hospital.”

An inquiry carried out by the Independent Police Complaints Commission in 2011 ruled the officers involved should not face criminal charges related to Mr Lewis’s death.

But the case was reopened in August 2013 after a successful High Court challenge by Mr Lewis’s family led to the original verdict being quashed.

In May last year the CPS revealed it would not be seeking prosecutions of the individual officers involved in Mr Lewis’s death.

At today’s hearing, Detective Chief Inspector Stuart Cavin, of Devon and Cornwall Police, said he expected the findings of the force’s investigation into possible corporate manslaughter and gross negligence to be handed over to the CPS by the end of May.

He added: “We were conscious of the desires of Mr and Mrs Lewis to ensure the speed of the investigation, and we have been in contact with them throughout.”

But the Lewis family’s counsel Dexter Dias expressed his doubts the new investigation would result in any prosecutions and stressed the importance of the long-delayed inquest.

He said: “What [Mr Lewis’s family] don’t want is for people to be rushed, and what they won’t want is for people not to be ready. But they don’t want it to be kicked into the long grass.”

Andrew Marshall, counsel for the Health and Safety Executive, said the regulator would not itself rule out seeking prosecution over Mr Lewis’s death until the end of the inquest.

Seni Lewis death: IPCC taken to court over report

Original Article can be seen at BBC London News

The family of a man who died days after being restrained by police have asked judges to review the police watchdog’s report on his death.

Olaseni Lewis, known as Seni, died in 2010 after he collapsed during a prolonged restraint by the police.

His parents want the High Court to quash the initial report.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission said it needed to begin a new investigation, but the Metropolitan Police said that was unlawful.

‘Wrongs were done’

Seni, a 23-year-old IT graduate from Kingston University, died after being taken to hospital when his behaviour became uncharacteristically odd and agitated.

He was restrained three times – first by hospital staff and then by 11 police officers – for 45 minutes before his collapse.

He never regained consciousness and died three days later.

The IPCC ruled in its original report, before it had full access to all the evidence, that no police officer was at fault.

It now says a criminal act may have happened and has told the family to take legal action so that it can reinvestigate.

Mr Lewis with friend

His parents, Ajibola and Conrad Lewis, said: “We feel that by going to the High Court it’s been acknowledged that wrongs were done and they’re going to correct them.

“The IPCC has apologised and said they want to do things right and they want to do another investigation and investigate the police under caution.”

IPCC commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne said: “We take the concerns raised by Mr Lewis’s family seriously and our focus has not shifted from providing them with answers to what happened to their son.

“We have reopened our investigation and have determined that there is an indication that officers may have committed criminal offences and, or, behaved in a manner which would justify disciplinary proceedings.”

She said the IPCC would not contest their claim and that it would pay their costs.

The Met Police said: “We have always expressed our desire to assist the family in understanding the circumstances of Mr Lewis’s death in any way possible and will continue to co-operate with the IPCC.

“The commissioner is adopting a neutral stance [to the judicial review].”

Met blocks quizzing of officers in probe over restraint death

Original Article can be found at: Evening Standard

08 May 2013

Scotland Yard is refusing to allow officers to be questioned under caution over the death of a university student who was forcibly restrained by police at a psychiatric hospital, a watchdog claimed today.

University graduate Olaseni Lewis, 23, collapsed and slipped into a coma after he was held down by up to 11 police officers at the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham in August 2010.

He was put on a life-support machine and died four days later.

Now a police watchdog has accused the Metropolitan Police of refusing to co-operate with a two-and-a-half year inquiry into the death.

In a strongly worded statement the Independent Police Complaints Commission revealed that it had “directed” the Met to “re-refer” the incident to them as a “recordable conduct matter”.

A spokeswoman said: “That would allow the IPCC to interview the officers under criminal caution. The Met has refused to do so.”

The watchdog said the move came after it had reviewed its initial inquiry following concerns from the family.

However, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Patricia Gallan, head of the Met’s professional standards, said the force had received legal advice that it would be “unlawful”  to refer the matter back to the IPCC. She said: “We are very disappointed that the IPCC has suggested that the Met is now refusing to cooperate with them. This is not the case.”

Mr Lewis, who was studying for a masters degree in business at Kingston University, became unwell after a night out with friends in August 2010.

His family became  concerned about his behaviour and he voluntarily admitted himself to the psychiatric hospital. Within hours Mr Lewis became agitated and staff first tried to restrain him before calling for police help.  Olaseni’s mother, Ajibola, told the Standard: “Why they can’t just allow for the officers to be questioned we just don’t know.”

A CPS spokesperson said: “After careful consideration of all the evidence the CPS will advise the IPCC, including on whether any charges should or should not be brought.”