Rod Charles at St Pancras Coroner’s Court on Day One of the inquest, 4 June 2018 (Family)
One Saturday last summer, in the early hours, a young black man called Rashan Charles died on the floor of a Hackney convenience store.
The police claimed that Rashan had been “taken ill” after “trying to swallow an object” and that a police officer “intervened and sought to prevent the man from harming himself”.
That’s not what happened.
The police pursuit, restraint and Rashan’s death were captured by the store’s security cameras. The visual evidence challenges the official story.
Rashan was 20 years old, a beloved son, brother, cousin, friend. His daughter was just shy of her second birthday when Rashan died.
I am Rashan’s great uncle, Rod Charles. I served for 30 years with the Metropolitan Police, retiring as a Chief Inspector four years ago. I remain committed to policing and effective law enforcement.
I have trained and managed Territorial Support Group officers such as the man who restrained Rashan. I am familiar with police guidance, policy and training in relation to the use of force.
In the weeks and months since Rashan died I have studied video footage of his final moments countless times. I continue reviewing the footage. I’ve noted what the officer did and what he failed to do.
I have tested that visual evidence against what police training says could and should have happened. Here’s my analysis.
A young black man
The location is a convenience store, called Yours Locally, among a row of shops on Kingsland Road, a busy high street in the London borough of Hackney. It’s the early hours of Saturday 22 July 2017.
Rashan is a young black man, aged 20, slightly built. He’s 6’1” tall and he weighs about 163 pounds (11st 9lbs). He’s wearing a dark jacket, ripped jeans and trainers. His hair is plaited in canerows.
The store security cameras record Rashan entering the shop at 1:40 AM. He is walking quickly.
Rashan’s hand goes to his mouth.
A police officer
Several seconds later, a police officer runs into the store. We are not allowed to know his name. His lawyer applied for him to be anonymous. The coroner yielded to that request. So we must call him BX47.
What powers does BX47 have at this point?
Rashan enters Yours Locally store 01.40AM
Seconds later, police officer BX47 runs into the store
The police officer BX47 must have reasonable grounds to believe Rashan is carrying drugs or a weapon. In which case, he may use reasonable force to detain Rashan so that he can conduct a search.
What is reasonable force? It means the type of force, degree of force and duration of force must be appropriate to the circumstances.
What’s reasonable might change depending on what’s happening.
Every officer is trained and drilled to think quickly on the go, to respond and adapt to a dynamic situation.
So, what are BX47’s tactical options as he follows Rashan into the store?
He could take control of the door, he could wait for backup, he could shout out clear directions to Rashan.
He does none of those things. Instead, he chooses to pursue Rashan down an aisle of the supermarket.
BX47 pursues Rashan Charles at 01.40.16
Now, as BX47, running, approaches Rashan from behind, what should he consider?
Is the suspect open to verbal interaction?
Hard to tell from behind.
Is the suspect offering violence to police officers or others at the scene?
No, he’s walking away.
At 1:40 AM BX47 makes immediate physical contact, from behind, spins Rashan around. Pushing Rashan, BX47 walks him back up the aisle (towards the camera).
BX47 grabs Rashan from behind at 01.40.16
BX47 grabs Rashan from behind and spins him round at 01.40.17
BX47 pushes Rashan up the aisle at 01.40.21
As we can see, BX47 is behind Rashan, has his right arm around Rashan’s chest, his right hand holding Rashan’s left arm. His left hand is at Rashan’s back, pushing him forwards.
As Rashan walks past the fridge, his left hand goes to his mouth, in a tossing motion.
Then BX47 pulls Rashan’s arms behind his back.
Rashan’s left hand goes to his mouth at 01.40.21
BX47 pulls Rashan’s arms behind his back at 01.40.22
Notice that Rashan is upright, he stands unaided and shows no signs of being unwell or physically distressed. Rashan offers no violence, no threat.
At no point at all, not even momentarily, does the officer achieve face-to-face interaction, which might have allowed him to assess Rashan’s willingness or unwillingness to cooperate, or his state of health.
Watch what happens next.
BX47 applies forearm neck hold, executes combat throw at 1.40.29
BX47 throws Rashan and lands heavily on top of him at 01.40.29
Level of force escalates
Twelve seconds after first taking hold of Rashan, the level of force rapidly and inexplicably escalates.
BX47 applies a forearm neck hold and executes a combat throw to the floor, landing heavily on top of Rashan.
These are high levels of force.
Neither the neck hold nor the throw are approved police training techniques.
Rashan is face down on the floor, his right hand palm down, fingers outstretched, his right hand is empty.
Rashan’s right hand is empty at 01.40.30
Seconds after hitting the floor Rashan’s right hand goes to his mouth, perhaps in an effort to remove the object?
BX47 blocks Rashan’s hand with his right hand then squeezes Rashan’s mouth.
Rashan’s right hand goes to his mouth at 1.40.32
BX47 squeezes Rashan’s mouth at 01.40.33
A mouth-search that’s not in the manual
If the officer is trying to search Rashan’s mouth, or remove an object, this is not the way to do it.
A mouth-search is a multiple officer tactic, carried out in controlled conditions and where a suspect is constantly monitored. All these things are essential to minimise the risk of serious harm. It is important to note, a forced mouth-search does not involve inserting hands or fingers INSIDE of a suspect’s mouth.
On the floor the forearm neck hold is re-engaged despite high risks from prolonged application of this type of restraint.
BX47 pulls Rashan’s head back. There’s an obvious risk of choking here.
Distress signals from Rashan
These are things every officer should know by rote after receiving their training. BX47 has an added advantage. He is a Territorial Support Group Officer, so he will have been trained to an even higher standard than a borough-based or community officer.
BX47 continues to use high levels of force. Rashan twists or is wrestled onto his left side. He kicks his legs against the floor. The forearm neck hold is reapplied, Rashan reaches out, and with the palm of his right hand, he taps the fridge door. Still, there is no threat to the officer. What we’re seeing suggests, rather, a young man signalling distress.
Distress signal. Rashan taps the fridge door at 01.40.39
Rashan taps the fridge door. BX47 braces his foot against shop fixtures at 01.40.41
As Rashan taps in distress, BX47 pivots on his right hip, bracing his extended right foot against adjacent shop fixtures. This enables him to secure the forearm neck hold. All actions involve high levels of force.
Rashan twists or is wrestled onto his back and then his right side. It is not quite a full minute after he was detained. Both his hands are visible. Both hands appear limp.
The officer appears to lean his body onto Rashan’s upper torso, touches his own chest.
Rashan is still lying on his right side, his knees move up into the fetal position.
BX47 has hold of Rashan’s left hand, twisting his arm.
BX47 twists Rashan’s arm. His knees rise in fetal position at 01.41.13
Rashan twists onto his front, his right arm reaches out beyond the fridge. BX47 still has control of Rashan’s left arm.
A few seconds on another man joins the restraint. He has also been granted anonymity, so we must call him Witness 1.
Briefly we see Rashan’s face, he turns his head to his left, his eyes are big and wide. He is facing BX47, looking directly at him. Rashan’s distress is now very clearly visible.
Witness 1 joins the restraint at 01.41.25. Rashan’s eyes are wide.
Close-up: Rashan’s eyes are wide at 01.41.25
This is the last time we see Rashan’s face alive.
Witness 1, tall, athletic, in blue jeans and black top, gets astride Rashan, pinning his legs down, holding Rashan as BX47’s hands go to his face.
Witness 1 pins Rashan down at 01.41.28
Face down on the floor, Rashan is completely still. Witness 1 takes Rashan’s limp right hand behind his back and passes it, correctly positioned, for BX47 to apply handcuffs. Neither man reacts to Rashan’s unresponsiveness.
The Metropolitan Police Service, and its watchdog the IPCC/IOPC have described Witness 1 as a “bystander”, a “member of the public”. But some people who’ve watched the video have noted the way he takes command of the situation, how the officer we’re calling BX47 seems to defer to him, by the way he positions Rashan’s hands.
They’ve asked: might he be an undercover officer or otherwise connected to the police?
I do not think he is, but I have grave concerns about his actions.
For now we’ll park those concerns and simply note that, in 30 years’ experience I have never known a member of the public to lead an arrest, I have never seen this at any scene that I have managed or supported.
Watch what he does:
Close-up: Witness 1 assists BX47 in handcuffing Rashan at 01.41.42
Witness 1 assists BX47 in handcuffing Rashan at 01.41.43
Who’s in charge? BX47 or Witness 1? At 01.41.46
Fifteen seconds after applying handcuffs to the unresponsive Rashan, BX47 and Witness 1 shift Rashan onto his right side. BX47 kneels to the left of him. Witness 1 stays on top, pinning Rashan down. They look into Rashan’s face. BX47 shakes Rashan a little, prods his tummy. Rashan stays still, face down on the floor, hands cuffed behind his back, Witness 1 still pinning him down.
BX47 prods Rashan’s tummy at 01.42.10
At 1:43AM BX47 takes his cap off. Some seconds later he unclips his radio, speaks into it.
This is BX47 summoning medical assistance? It’s a bit late for that now.
BX47 uses his radio at 01.43.22
BX47 clips his radio back to his chest, continues to kneel adjacent to Rashan, Witness 1 still pinning Rashan down.
At 1:44AM a female officer arrives, accompanied by several male colleagues. She is trained as a police medic. She too has been granted anonymity. The police want her to be referred to as BX48.
Officer BX48 arrives at 01.43.59
There is still delay that requires explanation. At 1.45am the handcuffs are removed, 3 minutes and 45 seconds after they were applied.
At 01.48.02: Rashan on his back, BX48, BX47, and Witness 1, who said he was a first aider
For the first time, at last, the need for urgent medical assistance is identified. It’s almost six minutes after Rashan signalled his distress by tapping, and nearly five minutes since he was handcuffed while unresponsive.
Medical experts who have viewed the footage advise me that Rashan likely died on the floor, before the police medic and paramedics arrived, while he was still lying face down, his hands cuffed behind him, the “member of the public” still pinning him down, before the ambulance was called.
In my next article we’ll assess some of the official claims that have been made about Rashan’s death. Let’s see how they stand up to scrutiny.
Rashan Charles, the eldest of seven children, with his little brother and sister. (Family)
Drafted in collaboration with Clare Sambrook and Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi for Shine A Light. Image collation by Sambrook and Omonira-Oyekanmi. As required by Coroner Mary Hassell’s anonymity order, we have obscured the faces of BX47, BX48, Witness 1 and Witness 2.
“BX47 did his best” says Independent Office for Police Conduct
Clare Sambrook writes: This week, on 15 August 2018, the Independent Office for Police Conduct published its investigation report on the death of Rashan Charles. The IOPC found that BX47’s “performance . . . fell short of expected standards”, but his failings “were not deliberate and did not amount to misconduct”.
They said: “while the restraint technique used was unorthodox it did not cause any injury to Mr Charles’ throat nor contribute to his death.” And: “BX47 did his best in difficult circumstances.”
The IOPC confirmed that (as we revealed here two months ago) BX47 failed to switch on his body worn camera as he left the police vehicle to pursue Rashan, and that footage from another officer was “not retained”. The IOPC’s investigators were “unable to confirm if this was due to human or computer error”.
IOPC investigation reports are provided to the coroner ahead of the inquest and form an important part of its fact-finding process.
At the inquest into Rashan’s death in June 2018 the jury watched CCTV footage of what was done to Rashan. They heard evidence from long-serving ex-Metropolitan Police officers who were presented as “independent” experts on restraint. Coroner Mary Hassell directed the jury to consider whether Rashan’s death was an accident. She did not leave them the option of a more critical conclusion, such as unlawful killing or neglect. They returned a verdict of accidental death.