Thursday, July 2, 2009

CCTV Contradicts IPCC Over Man WHo Died In Custody

Link to this video

Footage captures police using aggressive techniques to arrest Faisal Al-Ani, who died of heart failure in Southend police station

Newly obtained CCTV footage has revealed how police officers carried a bruised and apparently limp man into custody moments before he died, contradicting an initial statement by the investigating police watchdog that he had "walked into the police station" and then collapsed.

The footage, shown to Faisal Al-Ani's inquest and released by the coroner after legal requests by the Guardian, also shows three officers pinning him to the ground while arresting him in Southend-on-Sea town centre. The restraint techniques used by the officers against Al-Ani, a 43-year-old suffering from an acute psychotic illness, were criticised in a report commissioned by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

On Monday, the jury at Al-Ani's inquest at Southend civic centre returned a narrative verdict that was broadly supportive of police actions, finding that the force used by the police to restrain Al-Ani had been appropriate even though officers deviated from standard techniques, but that they had failed to take appropriate care of his physical welfare.

Al-Ani, who died of heart failure, was seen acting strangely in the High Street in Southend, Essex, around 9pm on 31 July 2005, the night he died. The father of six had a history of mental illness and was exhibiting symptoms consistent with a psychotic episode.

Three police community support officers witnessed him gesturing wildly, staring up at the sky and becoming involved in an aggressive altercation with some teenagers.

Two police constables and an inspector attended the scene. CCTV footage captured them approaching Al-Ani, who initially appeared to offer to shake an officer's hand. The officers walked him around the corner and, as he began resisting, wrestled him to the ground.

Al-Ani was held on the ground for about 10 minutes as officers tried to cuff him. The footage shows officers using several restraint techniques that were critised in a report written by a police trainer for the IPCC. The report said the officers had showm "little concern for [Al-Ani's] welfare".

The report was particularly cricital of an officer who placed his leg and knee across Al-Ani's back, very close to his neck, for a prolonged period of time. "This is a position that has a high risk for injury to the upper spine and is in contravention to all guidance," the report said.

The two-week inquest heard that officers could deviate from standard guidance in some circumstances. The jury said Al-Ani had posed a risk of injury or harm to himself or a police officer, and decided that officers took appropriate steps in restraining him.

Al-Ani was placed in the back of a waiting patrol car. Moments later, CCTV cameras recorded the car stopping at a green light en route to the police station, where it paused for several minutes.

Police said the journey to the police station was halted because Al-Ani became extremely violent and kicked out the rear nearside window, leaving his foot sticking out. The officers in the car said they punched Al-Ani several times and struck him with a baton in self-defence. At the time, Al-Ani's hands were cuffed behind his back.

Al-Ani's family say that despite the verdict, it is still not clear what happened to him in the car. They say none of the independent witnesses at the inquest said they saw broken glass or feet sticking out of the window.

"We've heard the police officers' account, but no one really knows what went on in that car," said Al-Ani's mother, Marie. "All I know is that when my son came out of that car he had to be carried out, and it didn't look like he was moving."

Al-Ani's last moments were captured by an outdoor camera overlooking a ramp leading up to the police station.

The IPCC initially said Al-Ani "arrived at the police station and walked into the custody suite waiting area where he collapsed". Four months later, after viewing CCTV images of him being carried into the police station, they corrected the mistake.

Today, the IPCC said in a statement their error had been made "in good faith" and that after noticing the mistake, investigators issued a correction and "apologised directly to the family".

Al-Ani's family said that the day after his death, they were told by an Essex police family liaison officer that he had walked into the station. "I asked her: did he walk into the police station? And she said yes," said Marie al-Al-Ani. "I was concerned how he got there. She said he walked into the police station and then he collapsed at the custody desk."

Essex police said they are not able to verify whether the family liaison officer said this.

The Crown Prosecution Service said that in 2007 there was "insufficient evidence" to press charges over Al-Ani's death. The IPCC concluded that the actions of the officers were "reasonable" and they should not face disciplinary action over the incident.

Marie Al-Ani said the IPCC's investigation into her son's death had been "a shambles" that left many unanswered questions. "I feel that the IPCC is biased toward the police," she said. "If it had not been for that CCTV footage that showed Faisal carried into the police station, we would have believed them when they said he walked in."

The family are aggrieved that a CCTV camera overlooking the area where Al-Ani was placed inside the police station was said not to have been recording when he was taken into the custody area. They claim IPCC investigators failed to notice police had taken more than 24 hours to write accounts of his arrest and death.

In a statement, Essex police said it extended its condolensces to the Al-Ani family, and said the inquest had supported the actions of its officers. Chief Superintendent Dave Folkard, who runs Essex police's complaints department, said Al-Ani had posed a danger to the public, and officers moved "swiftly and positively" to prevent harm to anyone.

Source: The Guardian:

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