Rashan Charles, according to @kasxest on Twitter
On Friday morning, 4 August, I emailed some questions to the UK police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
My questions concerned the moments leading up to the death of Rashan Charles, a 20 year old black man, in the early morning of Saturday, 22 July 2017, in the London borough of Hackney.
You can see something of what happened to Rashan in a video that was posted on Twitter and Facebook late on that Saturday night. (Warning: it’s distressing).
The place is a supermarket on Hackney’s Kingsland Road. What we’re seeing is the shop’s CCTV footage. A young black man, slightly built, walks down a supermarket aisle. We see him from behind. That’s Rashan Charles.
A uniformed police officer runs into view, grabs Rashan from behind, pulls him around, pushes him back towards the camera. Nothing we see in Rashan’s demeanour suggests threat. We see no behaviour that might explain what happens next.
The officer hurls Rashan to the floor, leans heavily on top of him, appears to apply a headlock. Rashan’s legs kick against the floor.
A shop worker in a blue shirt, holding cardboard, looks on.
Rashan Jermaine Charles under police restraint, Hackney, Saturday 22 July 2017
Another man, tall, athletic, in blue jeans and black top, gets astride Rashan, pinning his legs down. The uniformed officer cuffs Rashan behind his back.
At about 1 minute 45 seconds Rashan appears to stop moving. The officer and the tall man look into his face. The officer shakes him. Rashan stays face down on the floor, hands cuffed behind his back, the tall athletic man still pinning him down.
The video lasts 2 minutes and 17 seconds. (A longer, 3 minute 52 second, version of the video appeared on YouTube late on Sunday afternoon. Rashan is still under restraint by the end of it.)
[Editor's note: We have removed the link to the video shared on social media, due to the Coroner's anonymity ruling, and replaced it with a pixellated version published by the Guardian. Timings differ.]
Across UK national media by Sunday 07:00 only BBC online had noted the incident. (I preserved the BBC’s first report here and below.) A video was mentioned. The BBC chose not to share that with the public, not to describe its contents, not to provide a hyperlink.
No mention of “restraint”. Not by the police. Not by the BBC who reported only the official line: The police had followed a man on foot after trying to stop a car on the Kingsland Road. The police had “intervened” to “prevent the man from harming himself”. He was “taken ill” after “trying to swallow an object”.
What might those words suggest? A young man out for the night, fleeing the police, swallowing illegal drugs, choking? A police officer, stepping in, trying to save the young man’s life?
We might picture the swallowing, the choking, the calming, the encouragement to cough, the 5 back blows, the 5 abdominal thrusts, the actions recommended in the event of someone choking.
Nothing like that happens in the video.
Later that Sunday morning, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) issued a statement announcing the start of its investigation.
The IPCC stated: “The man became unwell and first aid was provided by a police officer, police medic and paramedics. The IPCC has obtained evidence which indicates an object was removed from his throat at the scene.”
Again, no mention of “restraint”.
Eight seconds behind
On the morning of Monday 24 July the London Evening Standard online published a second video, 53 seconds long, including, the Standard claimed, the moment Rashan swallows an object.
[We have removed the link to the video shared by the Standard, due to the Coroner's anonymity ruling.]
The video tells its own story, with elements the Standard failed to note. The camera, inside the shop, watches the entrance. At about 11 seconds into the video Rashan walks in. We see his face. He puts his hand to his mouth (the moment, the Standard says, when he swallowed an object). Rashan walks across our screen and out of view.
About 8 seconds after Rashan walked in, the police officer follows, running into the shop. We see his face. He runs out of shot. For about 7 seconds, in the Standard video, both men are unseen.
What happens during those seconds? The first video shows some of it: Rashan walking down the supermarket aisle, the police officer running, grabbing Rashan from behind, pulling him, turning him, pushing him.
The Standard video picks up the story as they come back into view. The officer has got Rashan’s arms pushed up behind his back. He pushes Rashan against an ice-cream cabinet, then throws him to the floor. Of the scene on the floor we see only Rashan’s trainers, kicking against the floor.
The first video shows more of what’s happening on the floor: the heavy and prolonged restraint, the tall man joining in, Rashan falling still.
In what way was the officer trying to prevent Rashan from harming himself? Which actions suggest the prevention of harm?
If, as the Metropolitan Police claimed (and the police watchdog and the BBC repeated) the officer “intervened” to prevent Rashan from harming himself, how could the officer know that Rashan had swallowed something? The video evidence suggests that he ran into the shop 8 seconds after Rashan is presumed to have swallowed.
Death by “restraint”
The first video appeared on my Twitter feed early on Sunday morning, 23 July 2017. I viewed it maybe 20 times, noted detail and timings, published my report, with video embedded, and quoting the BBC story in full, here on Shine A Light that Sunday morning, and launched it on Twitter. (Rashan had been identified on social media only, and by his nickname “Rashman”.)
I got the story out fast: I’d researched other state-related deaths of which the first official reports, containing such phrases as “taken ill”, “became unwell”, “took ill”, proved misleading.
I’ve reported on “restraint-related” deaths of people of colour, including Jimmy Mubenga, aged 46, restrained to death by G4S guards during a failed deportation attempt, and Gareth Myatt, aged 15, restrained to death by G4S guards in a child prison. (Warning: these links go to distressing material including violently offensive racist language).
I was concerned that the police statement and the BBC report had failed even to mention the restraint on Rashan.
A reporter's assumption, some questions and answers
In my report I described the second man, the tall athletic man who gets himself astride Rashan and pins his legs down, as a “plain clothes officer”. I’d made an assumption. Wrong, apparently.
'Member of public' assists police officer in restraining Rashan Charles (still image from first video)
According to an IPCC update on 25 July: “The officer restrained Mr Charles, with assistance from a member of the public.” On 28 July, the IPCC again reported: “A member of the public visible on CCTV and involved in Rashan’s restraint is not connected to the police.”
On the morning of Friday 4 August I emailed some questions to the IPCC. Later that day, a press officer emailed back.
Here are my questions, with the IPCC’s answers in bold italics. The first questions concern the “member of the public”. The last question concerns how the officer might have known that Rashan had put something into his mouth.
SAMBROOK: Regarding IPCC statement “A member of the public visible on CCTV and involved in Rashan’s restraint is not connected to the police.” Please would you advise: Did that person act in response to request from the police?
IPCC: This will form part of our investigation.
SAMBROOK: Has he been interviewed under caution and / or charged in relation to the incident?
IPCC: No — he has been interviewed though and a witness statement taken.
SAMBROOK: Can you state his occupation?
SAMBROOK: Regarding: “not connected to the police”, can you confirm that he has no connection with police or other security services?
IPCC: Not police or security services.
SAMBROOK: Regarding video released showing Rashan Charles entering the shop and putting something into his mouth: Question: Am I correct that the camera is in front of Rashan Charles and the police officer is behind him?
IPCC: I’m afraid my decrepit IT doesn’t let me play that video but Rashan is afro-caribbean and wearing a dark jacket. Stills from that video are further down in the article.
Look over there!
The first official line from the Metropolitan Police, the IPCC and the BBC, the assertion that Rashan had swallowed an object, and the police officer was trying to prevent him from harming himself, the official line that excluded any mention of the restraint, that matters.
The police and their “independent” watchdog, aided by the BBC, launched a convenient narrative early, directing the media and public curiosity towards the swallowed object, inviting speculation about what it might be, what it might reveal about Rashan, his intentions and his character: Look over there!
They suppressed, by omission, an inconvenient narrative, for which there was video evidence, the story of the restraint, the story of what was done to Rashan, the police actions leading up to his death.
On Wednesday 2 August, the IPCC stated that it had received the results of: “forensic analysis of an object that was removed from Rashan’s airway by paramedics”.
And: “The object did not contain a controlled substance.”
On Thursday 3 August, the IPCC released another statement, this time from the Commissioner overseeing the Rashan Charles investigation, Cindy Butts. She said: “We did not provide further details, because the contents of the package are not directly relevant to our investigation – we are looking into the circumstances of Rashan’s death, not investigating Rashan. However, given the inflammatory nature of some ongoing speculation I will confirm that the package consisted of a mixture of paracetamol and caffeine wrapped in plastic.”
The conduct of those involved in the incident
Rashan’s family also issued a statement that day. They noted their concern about the IPCC’s “openness and transparency” which was “regrettable at this stage”.
About the package and the results of forensic analysis, the Charles family said: “While this is important, we wish to make it clear that the content of the package must not detract from our primary concern, which is to investigate the conduct of those involved in the incident that led to Rashan’s death.”
The Charles family statement was published by INQUEST, the charity that supports people bereaved by state-related deaths. (The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Carolynn Gallwey and Chanel Dolcy of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors.)
Beneath the family statement, INQUEST noted:
"We are aware of the following deaths after police contact in June/July 2017:
Wednesday 21 June - Edir Frederico Da Costa, 25, black male, died in Newham, East London following restraint by police after stop and search six days earlier.
Wednesday 19 July - Darren Cumberbatch, 32, black male, died in Nuneaton, Warwickshire following restraint by police.
Saturday 15 July - Shane Bryant, 29, black male, died in Leicestershire following restraint by members of public and police two days earlier.
Saturday 22 July - Rashan J Charles, 20, black male, died in Hackney, East London following restraint by police after stop and search.
Updates on investigations into these deaths from the IPCC can be found here."