Officer BX47 restrains Rashan Charles, Saturday 22 July, 2017
The inquest into the death of Rashan Charles, which involved restraint, heard expert evidence last week on police use of force.
Both expert witnesses, Ian Read and Martin Graves, are retired Metropolitan Police officers, each with more than 30 years’ experience. They testified on the types of permitted restraints, how they are used and in what circumstances.
Read said that he did not know the officer (known as BX47) who restrained Rashan, but he had been present at BX47’s training ten years ago.
Both Read and Graves said they knew Rod Charles, Rashan’s great uncle, who retired as a chief inspector four years ago after 30 years’ service with the Metropolitan Police.
The expert evidence ran over two days, from mid-afternoon on Tuesday 12 June into Wednesday 13 June, Days Six and Seven of the inquest.
Rashan Charles died after being restrained last summer by the police officer BX47 and a man described as a “member of the public” in a convenience store in Hackney, east London. The coroner granted both men anonymity and ruled they should be known in court as BX47 and Witness 1. A second officer, who arrived in the restraint’s final moments and administered CPR is known as BX48.
What the jury saw and heard
CCTV and police body worn camera footage played in court showed BX47 use force to take Rashan to the ground. Then, BX47 attempts to retrieve something from Rashan’s mouth. Rashan is still moving at this stage, his legs kicking. On BX47’s body worn camera footage, the officer is heard shouting: “Spit it out, spit it out.”
Immediately after this, there is a muffled sound from Rashan. The officer repeats the command “Spit it out” several times. Then a second voice is heard offering “a hand”. This is Witness 1. He kneels down, joins in the restraint, pinning Rashan down. BX47 directs Witness 1 to take Rashan’s hand. Witness 1 tells Rashan, “Just relax, it’s alright” and “I’m not going to hurt you”.
Working together, the men handcuff Rashan, whose body appears limp. Once the cuffs are on, BX47 says: “Turn him on his side”. Then, “He’s got something in his mouth.”
When Rashan is turned onto his side, Witness 1 looks to be holding him down while BX47 kneels beside him. There is more dialogue and noise from the shop. Officer BX47 prods Rashan’s stomach and puts his head to Rashan’s mouth. BX47 says: “I think he swallowed something.”
When BX48 arrives, BX47 tells her: “He may have swallowed something.”
Officer BX47 and Witness 1 handcuff Rashan Charles
“Proportionate, Lawful, Accountable and Necessary”
Read and Graves gave evidence on the types of restraint most often used by police officers, what they are taught during training and what training might apply in the case of Rashan Charles.
Ian Read, who delivers training to the Metropolitan Police Service and forces across the country, and spent 36 years in the Met, told the court that all new recruits undergo a five-day training course on the “use of force” powers allowed by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. Officers receive ongoing and refresher training, two days a year.
Use of force must be Proportionate (to the threat), Lawful, Accountable and Necessary, Read said, referring to the PLAN model.
Officers learn how to use different types of restraint safely, what to do if someone is suspected of swallowing drugs or choking, and how to safely detain someone who is resisting arrest, he said. Training films feature restraint risks such as positional asphyxia, and risks related to the use of neck holds and handcuffs.
The film called “Consideration for safe restraint” shows that if a person falls to the ground, officers must beware of actions that could interfere with breathing and cause positional asphyxia, Read explained. If someone is on the ground, officers are taught to handcuff them, put them on their side, then try to get them to sitting or standing position.
St Pancras Coroner’s Court (Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi)
Read said that until recently officers were trained in forcible mouth searching, when someone is suspected of hiding drugs. He confirmed when asked that the officer’s first aim would be to “obtain evidence”. Coroner Mary Hassell asked if the officer should consider “the welfare of the detainee”.
Yes, Read replied, officers must be aware of the risk of swallowing and choking.
During questioning Read said that officers may use techniques not covered in their training to retrieve drugs from a person’s mouth. “You can never say never,” he said; the rule is that an officer must be able to justify any use of force.
The court heard that after Rashan’s death the Metropolitan Police suspended the practice of mouth searching, and that the Met’s part-time medical director Dr Meng Aw-Yong conducted a review and delivered his draft report to senior police officers in June.
The coroner asked Read what happens when a police officer is in an intense situation and there isn’t time to think through the use of force PLAN model — proportionate, lawful, accountable, necessary? What do you teach in training about how to behave in those situations? the coroner asked.
Watch out for signs of a medical emergency
Read replied that officers are trained in the “national decision making model” to constantly reassess and re-evaluate a situation and, if necessary, reduce or increase the level of force.
He added that an officer should watch for signs of a medical emergency, noting a detained person’s pallor, listening if they say they can’t breathe, looking out for signs of retching or choking.
The coroner asked what should an officer do if they spot a medical emergency during use of force?
When someone shows signs of being unwell — whether coughing, spluttering, colour changing, hands going up — an officer trained in first aid should check for some form of response, Read said. Questions to think about include: Are they alert? Do they respond to my voice? Check the airway. Check for breathing. Check mouth, tilt head back and carry out a breathing check for 10 seconds.
If the person detained is unresponsive and breathing, he said, they must be put into the recovery position.
If the person is unresponsive and not breathing, the officer should start CPR, do chest compressions.
The coroner asked, what if you have someone in handcuffs?
Read said that it was up to the officer “to make the decision” and assess the level of threat posed by the detained person.
The coroner asked: What do you teach about members of the public getting involved?
Read said that wasn’t taught in officer safety, but a first aider “can be used”. “It depends on the situation,” he said.
(On Day Three the inquest heard that Witness 1, the man who helped restrain and handcuff Rashan, had done one day’s first aid training six years ago, and that he told BX47 and Rashan: “I’m a first aider.”)
The coroner asked whether it was permissible to use a member of the public during a restraint. Read said it was.
Evidence from the second police training expert, Martin Graves, was similar to Read’s. Graves said he retired from the Metropolitan Police in 2012 after 31 years’ service, and is an expert witness in relation to use of force, officer safety policy and training.
He told the court that a forced mouth search was a difficult tactic, best carried out as part of a team, and it was “damn near impossible to conduct a forced mouth search on your own”.
So, the coroner asked, was he critical of BX47’s actions?
Graves replied: “I wouldn’t be critical of him attempting it. He did what he could with the tools that he had available to him at the time.” Graves said BX47 went from arrest to duty of care towards Rashan.
Asked about BX47’s failure to call an ambulance immediately, Graves agreed that it should have been done sooner. The effects of stress should be considered, he said. BX47 had exerted himself chasing Rashan, he was panting, and skills can diminish quickly if the effects of stress kick in.
Handcuffs, ambulance, choking, Witness 1
Ian Read said he believed that overall BX47 had behaved in a way consistent with officer safety training.
The coroner asked Read to talk the jury through the CCTV and police body worn camera footage of the restraint. She asked whether he saw anything in BX47’s behavior that was inconsistent with training he would have received. Read replied that he did not.
When questioned further Read conceded that he would have done certain things differently.
In CCTV footage, after BX47 throws Rashan to the floor, landing on top of him, Rashan’s legs are first kicking, then completely still. The coroner asked Read what police officer safety training has to say about responding to someone who is “thrashing, then quiet”.
Read said there was no specific teaching on leg movement. His concern would be about Rashan’s behaviour and that he had suddenly gone quiet. You would check his breathing, check he is responsive, talk to him, Read said.
What if he is not responsive but is breathing? the coroner asked. Then first aid would kick in and you could put him into recovery position, Read said, adding: “I would consider handcuff removal.”
He said it would depend on the situation and the officer’s perception of what was happening. If someone was resisting, you wouldn’t want to take the handcuffs off.
(On CCTV footage shown in court, Rashan appears limp and still even as BX47 and Witness 1 handcuff him. He remains in handcuffs up until BX48 arrives, takes them off and administers CPR.)
Delay in calling for an ambulance
What happens here, said the coroner, is that BX47 calls for assistance, and then he calls for an ambulance. The coroner asked Read if it would it be more consistent with training to call an ambulance straight away. He replied: “Yes”.
On police body worn camera footage, shortly after handcuffing Rashan with Witness 1, BX47 is heard calling for assistance: “More to my location quick, back of the shop”, he says. Rashan’s body is unresponsive, limp. His eyes are wide.
The coroner asked Read again, at that stage should BX47 have called for an ambulance. Read said yes. At that point it is a medical emergency, he added.
The coroner asked Read what an officer should do if a detained person is quiet but believed to be conscious. Read replied that if there was any doubt it should be classed as a medical emergency, which means calling an ambulance.
On the footage shown in court Witness 1 holds Rashan down and kneels on him right up until BX48 arrives. Read told the court that he probably would have asked Witness 1 to move after the handcuffs went on.
The coroner asked Read to consider the whole episode and what he might highlight during a training session. Read said the main indicators to note would be the muffled “glug” sound Rashan makes, before the handcuffs go on and Rashan’s wide staring eyes. Reassess the situation after the handcuffs are on, he said.
Read was reluctant to criticise BX47. It’s easy to speak with hindsight and the aid of the video footage, he said, and in a stressful situation, it’s easy to get tunnel vision.
Did officer’s actions breach a duty of care?
Jude Bunting, lawyer for Rashan’s mother and grandmother, questioned Read on BX47’s duty of care to Rashan.
Wasn’t there enough material in police officer safety training for BX47 to have followed this and arrested Rashan safely? BX47 could have communicated with his colleagues earlier, Bunting said. He could have called out to Rashan as he entered the shop.
Read accepted the importance of communication when trying to control a suspect. In BX47’s situation, before using force he would have said to Rashan: “Stop, stay there!”
Like Graves, Read was reluctant to criticize BX47. Reality was different to training and restraint could be challenging, he said.
Bunting questioned Read on BX47’s behavior versus what was taught around use of force in training. Referring to the police officer safety training manual, parts of which Read wrote, Bunting highlighted several types of restraint available to BX47 that did not involve a neck hold.
Read said the restraint used depended on the officer, and the officer must be able to justify any use of force.
Rashan Charles (Family)
Bunting took Read step by step through BX47’s actions, presenting alternative ways to arrest someone. Bunting asked: Might BX47 have restrained Rashan without taking him to the ground?
Read didn’t answer directly. He said it was very difficult to control someone standing and said again that undertaking a restraint alone was challenging.
Bunting’s questions about BX47’s actions were repeatedly met with sideways answers. The coroner Mary Hassell repeatedly interrupted, asking Bunting to move on.
Search by mouth, a multi-officer tactic
Bunting raised other aspects of BX47’s training, included the use of “search by mouth”. Read confirmed that this was a multi-officer tactic because of the potential risks. One officer should act as a safety officer, standing back and monitoring for signs, he said. Officers are drilled on the risks, particularly choking, and schooled on the appropriate response.
Bunting finished questioning the witness by asking if Read felt that BX47 had breached a duty of care to Rashan at any time during the restraint, in the way that he monitored Rashan after the cuffs went on, and in the delay in calling an ambulance?
Read replied that he didn’t think BX47 had breached any duty of care. Read said: “It could have been done better in hindsight. From what I have seen and what I have heard he has tried to look after Rashan.”
Martin Graves gave a similar answer: he didn’t think BX47 had breached any duty of care towards Rashan.
Witnesses questioned on reality versus simulated training
Neil Saunders, counsel for police officers BX47 and BX48, suggested to Read that officer safety training covered split-second decision-making, which involved assessing threats posed by someone detained.
He asked Read what level of risk BX47 faced on 22 July in an area with “gang related violence”, having spotted a hired vehicle and someone who had run off? Read said there was a high risk “because of the area”.
Saunders suggested that officers know that not everything in training is like real life, and when training isn’t followed officers must explain why. Read agreed.
Saunders said initial control and restraint was a “fluid, dynamic process” and a suspect was easiest controlled on the ground. Read agreed. Saunders took Read through the officer safety training manual and suggested that BX47 stuck to training by turning Rashan on to his side and asking him to spit out whatever was in his mouth.
He suggested that officer training taught “classic signs of choking”, which he described as coughing, spluttering, complaining, and someone talkative and then suddenly quiet. Read confirmed this.
John Beggs QC, counsel for the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, questioned Read on the difficulties of simulating real experiences during training. He suggested that in some parts of the real world an officer is in “constant danger from others” and that risks prevail up until the moment an officer has control. Beggs suggested that people are unpredictable and it can be frightening as an officer working alone. He said if all members of the public complied with arrest you would be out of a job. Read agreed with Beggs’s comments.
Beggs suggested to Read that last year Hackney had been “plagued” by a summer of “shootings and stabbings”. These were real dangers for which no officer can prepare, he suggested. Read agreed.
Beggs said it needed to be put bluntly that Rashan had decamped from a “suspicious vehicle”, sprinted off and resisted arrest. He suggested the CCTV footage showed Rashan “determined to swallow quite a large package of materials”. Beggs continued that the reality is that until BX47 has Rashan is in handcuffs, he cannot be sure there isn’t a weapon on his person. Read accepted all this.
Beggs suggested that if an officer was to be judged by Bunting’s “text book of perfection” then “very few would pass muster”. Read agreed. Read said that a police officer is always in danger of offenders carrying weapons.
“What is the aim of police training?”
After nearly two days of questions from the coroner and lawyers, the jury had their own questions for Ian Read.
One question referred to the repeated comments made about reality versus training and how difficult it is for officers to prepare for real life situations. A jury member wanted to know, “What then is the aim of the training?”
Read replied that the aim is to protect the public and protect officers. He said they tried to make training realistic but there were limits on how realistic you could make a restraint situation. We have to train 28,000 officers, he added.
Another question was about the CCTV footage where BX47 takes Rashan to the ground. The jury member thought it looked like BX47 had Rashan in a headlock, was that a recognised tactic?
Read said the Met doesn’t specifically teach headlocks, though officers might practise it. Read said what’s emphasised in training is the dangers of restraining around the neck.
Another jury question: Is there anything to prepare an officer for when a suspect stops running and is cornered?
Read replied that it depended on the circumstances.
The jury also had questions for Martin Graves. They wanted to know, given the evidence heard about dangers in Hackney, was there anything in the training manual that indicates an officer should not chase after suspects on their own?
Graves said it is common to split from colleagues. Officers should make a dynamic risk assessment of the circumstances and make their decision.
During questioning Graves had referred to the possible effect of stress on BX47’s decision-making. The jury wanted to know if there was anything in the training manual to help officers deal with stressful situations in a rational way.
Graves said officers are trained to make rational decisions, but it’s impossible to deal with such high levels of stress during a pressured situation.
The jury’s verdict is expected today.
Edited by Clare Sambrook for Shine A Light.