Rashan Charles with his daughter (Family)
An inquest jury heard evidence on Wednesday from the man who helped a police officer restrain and handcuff young black Londoner Rashan Charles.
Rashan, who was 20, died after being restrained by the police officer and the man described by police as a “member of the public” on Saturday 22 July last year. At around 1:45am the officer followed Rashan into a convenience store in Hackney, East London, grabbed him from behind, threw him to the ground and restrained him.
The court heard that before that day Witness 1 did not know Rashan or the police officer, who is known in court by the cipher BX47. Witness 1 said he was a frequent visitor to the shop, and had stopped by that morning to buy a sandwich and a drink. He was outside the shop when he saw BX47 run inside. Witness 1 said he walked into the shop and saw Rashan on the floor, pinned down by the police officer as several bystanders looked on.
Once on the floor BX47 tried to retrieve something from Rashan’s mouth while pinning him down. At this point Rashan was still moving and wriggling beneath him. CCTV footage show his legs kick against a tall drinks fridge.
Witness 1: “Do you want a hand?” Officer BX47: “Yes.”
During questioning Witness 1 said that “without thinking” he offered to help. He told the court: “The officer and Rashan Charles both didn’t look comfortable. So I thought I would step in to defuse any resistance and struggle between the two.”
He said the police officer had appeared “panicked”, “confused” and “in shock”.
Witness 1 said that both Rashan and BX47 “seemed to be in an awkward position”. And: “I wanted to assist both parties.”
He told the court that he tried to offer support when it became clear that Rashan was unwell and unresponsive.
CCTV footage of the restraint showed Witness 1 walking into frame, then getting himself astride Rashan and trying to grab hold of the young man’s arms.
The jury was shown BX47’s body worn camera footage, which included sound. Before Witness 1 joins in the restraint, he asks BX47, “Do you want a hand?” The officer replies: “Yes.”
Coroner: “Were you resting on him?”
Witness 1 told the court that he then knelt down with one knee on the floor, wedged between the drinks fridge and the right hand side of Rashan’s body. During questioning he said his other knee was on the other side of Rashan’s body. In CCTV footage shown to the court, Witness 1’s leg appears to be resting on Rashan’s upper thigh for quite some time before another officer and paramedics arrive on the scene.
The coroner asked him, “Were you resting on him?” Witness 1 replied: “I was resting on my elbow and my knee.”
Working together, Witness 1 and BX47 are seen to handcuff Rashan, who is face down on the floor and, by now, completely still.
Witness 1 takes Rashan’s limp right hand and passes it for BX47 to apply handcuffs. He remains kneeling on Rashan’s limp body.
Witness 1 and police officer BX47 handcuff Rashan Charles on the floor of a Hackney convenience store, Saturday 22 July 2017
In court Witness 1 said that after the handcuffing he put his right hand “under Rashan’s face to support it”.
In body worn camera footage shown in court Witness 1 says, “Just relax, it’s alright.” Then BX47 says: “Turn him to his side” and “He’s got something in his mouth.”
Witness 1: “He’s just putting it on.” BX47: “No he’s not”
Other voices and background noise can be heard. Over the din, BX47 says: “Breathe, breathe, breathe.” Then, in a louder voice: “I think he swallowed something.” Someone says, “Open your mouth.” BX47 radios colleagues nearby, giving his location.
At one point Witness 1 says: “He’s just putting it on,” to which BX47 replies, “No he’s not.”
The coroner asked Witness 1 what made him say that Rashan was “putting it on”. “I don’t know,” he said. “I thought that he might have gone into a fit. Maybe prior to me coming in. Maybe there was a struggle.”
The jury heard that it was only after the cuffs went on that Witness 1 realised Rashan was unwell. He can be heard on the body worn camera footage saying, “Come on mate, we want to look after you.” BX47 says: “We are not fussed about the drugs.”
Witness 1 told the court more than once that he thought Rashan was in shock or having a fit. Under questioning, Witness 1 said that Rashan showed no sign of strength, response or struggle.
Come on mate, we want to look after you.
The coroner questioned Witness 1 about what he did next, which was to pinch Rashan’s nose and hold his cheeks. Witness 1 said he hoped that by pinching Rashan’s nose he could force the young man’s mouth to open.
“What was your aim in holding his cheeks?” the coroner asked. Witness 1 said he wanted to prevent Rashan’s face from hitting the floor and to keep his mouth open. He said that Rashan’s movements were “not right and his body wasn’t responding”.
“What was Rashan doing at that point?” asked the coroner. “Clenching his teeth,” said Witness 1. Could you tell if that was intentional or an involuntary reaction, asked the coroner. “It’s hard to say,” said Witness 1. “That is why I was asking for assistance.” He said he wanted someone — either BX47 or bystanders — to check Rashan’s mouth to see what if anything was inside, blocking his airway.
On the body worn camera footage Witness 1 can be heard asking for something to put in Rashan’s mouth. When questioned, Witness 1 told the court that he wanted to use an object to keep Rashan’s mouth open until emergency services arrived.
A one-day first aid course six years ago
The jury heard that Witness 1 had taken part in a one-day first aid course in 2012. (On the second day of the inquest, police officer BX47 told the court that he allowed Witness 1 to assist because the man said he knew first aid. Another police officer, known as BX48, who arrived on the scene just before paramedics arrived, also told the court that she allowed the man to stay at the scene because he was a first aider. She said she could tell his first aid training was historic, but he was supporting Rashan’s head so she didn’t ask him to leave.)
Once Rashan is cuffed, Witness 1 can be heard on the body worn camera footage: “I’m a first aider,” he says. “I’m trying to help you stay breathing.”
He also says: “Stop biting my finger. I’m trying to help you.” The coroner asked Witness 1 to clarify because it was not clear from the footage that Rashan was in fact biting him. There is no movement of Rashan’s jaw, she said. Instead, Witness 1 appears to be holding Rashan’s cheek with his fingers and thumb when he tells Rashan to stop biting him.
I’m a first aider, I’m trying to help you stay breathing
Witness 1 replied that he had used his forefinger to push Rashan’s mouth open. Later the coroner asked again if he was certain that Rashan was trying to bite him at this stage. Witness 1 said he could not be “one hundred per cent certain”.
He added that he wasn’t sure but that at the time he felt the “sharpness of teeth” and thought this was Rashan biting.
“Do you think Rashan was still conscious?” the coroner asked. “I don’t know. Not one hundred per cent. I was to the side of him. I was not sure whether he was conscious. But I noticed he was not responding soon after. I assumed he was not conscious,” he said. Witness 1 told the coroner that Rashan stopped responding when police officer BX48, arrived on the scene. BX48 then started CPR.
When did Rashan lose consciousness?
Jude Bunting, the lawyer representing Rashan’s mother and grandmother, challenged Witness 1’s recollection of when Rashan may or may not have lost consciousness.
Bunting reminded Witness 1 that in statements made to police investigators he had said he noticed Rashan losing consciousness before BX48 arrived in the shop, therefore, said Bunting, some time before BX48 arrived Rashan “was not struggling, he was not responding and he was not able to lift his head up”. The lawyer suggested that Witness 1 had noticed Rashan lose consciousness earlier than he had just told the court. When asked if he agreed with this version of events Witness 1 said “Yes”.
“The officer was panicking”
The court heard that in two statements Witness 1 made after Rashan’s death he told police investigators that BX47 was in shock and panicking. This quote from Witness 1’s 22 July statement made at 7.15am at Stoke Newington police station was read out in court: “The officer was panicking so I asked if he required assistance.”
About the sequence of events, the court heard that in his statement Witness 1 said that after the initial restraint and once Rashan is handcuffed, “The male officer was panicking.”
Witness 1 confirmed to the court that he was referring to BX47 in the statement. Asked to explain, Witness 1 said BX47 “was sweaty and in shock”.
He seemed to be in shock, confused like everyone else.
The family’s lawyer read out sections from a second statement Witness 1 gave to Independent Police Complaints Commission investigators (since renamed Independent Office for Police Conduct) on 24 August last year.
“The officer seemed pretty shocked and shaken,” Bunting read from Witness 1’s statement. BX47 “was just sort of sitting there on his knees”. And: “I suppose he was confused as well.” It was only when BX48 arrived “that things started to calm down”.
“Looking back, would you say that BX47 was in a state of shock?” asked Bunting. “Very much so,” replied Witness 1. He added: “It is just the sweating and he seemed uncomfortable and just in shock I suppose.”
Under further questioning from Bunting, Witness 1 said several more times that BX47 was “just in shock” and “It seemed to me that he was in shock and tired” and “He seemed to be in shock, confused like everyone else”.
Witness 1 on BX47: “He was not himself”
Witness 1 told the court that he was overwhelmed and wanted more direction on what to do. Bunting asked Witness 1 if he felt that BX47 had assisted him. “I feel 47 was not one hundred per cent. He was tired. He was not himself,” said Witness 1. “I didn’t expect any more directions after that.”
He added that BX47 froze. About the bystanders, he said: “I couldn’t understand why there was so many people present and no one lent an extra hand that would have been so vital at that time.”
Bunting said to Witness 1 that it is clear “you were disappointed with how everyone else reacted”. He added: “Are you also a little bit disappointed in yourself? ... That you didn’t take your weight off his body?”
Witness 1 said: “I wouldn’t say any weight was on him.” He added that he was disappointed in himself for not doing more to clear Rashan’s airway and sit him up. “But I blanked out and lost confidence when no one else was assisting until officer BX48 arrived,” he said.
Counsel for police: officer’s focus is Rashan’s wellbeing
John Beggs QC, representing the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and Neil Saunders, the lawyer representing BX47 and BX48, questioned Witness 1’s account of what officer BX47 did.
In the body worn footage BX47 can be heard to say, “Come on mate, we’re not fussed about the drugs.” Beggs suggested to Witness 1 that it was obvious that BX47 was focused on Rashan’s wellbeing rather than capturing potential evidence. Witness 1 responded: “Yes.”
Beggs suggested that Witness 1 was trying to open Rashan’s mouth to “fish out” whatever was there, if anything. He asked whether when Witness 1 says “stop biting my fingers” it was because “you honestly believed that he was biting your fingers?” Witness 1 said: “Yes. I was in shock.”
Rashan Charles (Family)Saunders asked Witness 1 about the scene when he entered the shop. He suggested one of the reasons it was confusing was because of items knocked off the shelves. He asked Witness 1 if the general debris was caused by Rashan resisting arrest. Witness replied: “Yes. That’s why I stepped in to offer my assistance to defuse the situation.”
Saunders suggested that it was difficult for BX47 to restrain Rashan alone. Witness 1 replied: “To a certain extent.”
Then Saunders asked if Witness 1 stepped in because he saw BX47 doing anything wrong. Witness 1 said: “I didn’t see the officer doing anything wrong. I saw the officer holding Rashan’s left arm with both hands.”
Noting that BX47 had urged Rashan to breathe, Saunders offered Witness 1 an interpretation: that this was not because Rashan wasn’t breathing, but rather, “because you are asking him to carry on breathing”. Witness 1 replied: “Yes.”
Saunders asked Witness 1 if there were any obvious signs that Rashan was choking, such as “struggling to breath, coughing, spluttering”. Witness 1 replied that there were not.
Witness 1 again said that he didn’t receive instructions on what to do until BX48 arrived.
Saunders then asked Witness 1 if he agreed that there was dialogue between himself and BX47, that BX47 had given instructions and there was no question that Rashan was having a fit or choking. Witness 1 agreed.
Alluding to Witness 1’s later statements, Saunders said: “Only later when you understand that Mr Charles has passed away that you are thinking how on earth did that happen?”
Witness 1 said, “Yes. It was shocking.”
During questioning Witness 1 told the court that after the paramedics had arrived he and BX47 had assumed Rashan was alive.
I wish I could have done more.
Saunders repeatedly asked Witness 1 to confirm that there were no signs of choking or struggling from Rashan, and right up until the paramedics arrived breathing checks were undertaken.
Witness 1 agreed with him.
Saunders added it is only when BX48 arrives that there is concern about consciousness and rescue breaths are administered. Witness 1 agreed.
Saunders suggested that Witness 1 did everything he could to help save Rashan. Witness 1 replied: “I wish I could have done more.” When asked if the police officers did all they could to save Rashan Witness 1 said, “As far as I could tell.”
Jury: why did Witness 1 stay on top of Rashan for so long?
Once questions had been asked by lawyers and the coroner, the jury had questions for Witness 1. These were put to him by Coroner Mary Hassell.
“At any point did you think that BX47 was hurting Rashan?”
Witness 1 said: “Not at any point. I was there to assist the officer as well as Rashan.”
The jury wanted to know when Witness 1 was asked to step aside. He said: “Soon after BX48 came in and took control of everything.”
The jury asked who was making the first aid decisions. Witness 1 said: “I would say BX47 was giving instructions. There were moments where there was a lack of support from other parties.”
The jury asked more than one question about Witness 1’s position on top of Rashan. They asked why he remained on Rashan for so long. “My arm was supporting his face,” he said. He added that all his weight was in his elbow and that he remained “to the side of him”.
In response to this, the jury asked: “If there was little to no weight on your left knee, why was your leg over Rashan?”
Witness 1 said: “I was in a very awkward position. I was trying to put it around him.” Witness 1 told the court that he was in pain and discomfort.
The jury asked Witness 1 if he thought that BX48’s medical experience allowed her to take over while “BX47 was panicking”. Witness 1 said “Yes”.
Who was in control, BX47 or Witness 1?
The coroner then questioned Witness 1 on the discrepancy in his account of who was in control before BX48 arrived. In evidence Witness 1 said that BX47 gave him instructions. He also said that BX47 froze and did very little. “He was giving instructions to the best of his ability, but I just feel that he also needed extra help,” said Witness 1.
The jury asked the coroner to ask Witness 1 again if he thought BX47 was making decisions or not. “I don’t know,” Witness 1 replied. Then he said again, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
The inquest continues.
Edited by Clare Sambrook for Shine A Light.