The death of Rashan Charles: Is the vilification of police justified?

The decision of the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute the officer concerned in the death of Rashan Charles predictably provoked a storm of protest from activists and an impassioned exchange of views on social medial.

Much of the criticism emanated from Lee Jasper but arguably the most disturbing assertion came from Leroy Logan MBE, a retired black senior officer, who argued that the officer should, in any event, have been prosecuted. This in turn provoked an angry response from those in the police community who reasonably argued that if the case failed the evidential threshold test then it would be totally wrong to charge that individual purely, it would seem, because he was a white police officer and the deceased a black male.

Watching the CCTV recording of the incident and knowing the tragic outcome is unquestionably a harrowing experience. Yet any observer, with even a minimal knowledge of policing, not knowing the outcome, could surely only conclude that the struggle was a mild one, fairly typical of those seen thousands of times a year.

The officer wanted to detain Mr Charles and Mr Charles did not want to be detained. There ensued a struggle yet it was clear that Mr Charles did not display any excessive violence towards the officer and the officer did not display any excessive violence towards Mr Charles despite the tragic outcome. There was no attempt by the officer to draw his baton or use his CS spray and the officer didn’t apparently feel the need to press his orange ‘panic’ button on his police radio.

Taking the suspect to the ground is common police practice and there seems little doubt that the officer attempted to obtain the package placed in his own mouth by Mr Charles. His reasons for doing are unquestionably covered by his statement and perhaps revolve around concern for Mr Charles’s welfare in case he actually swallowed the package or a retrieval of potentially lost evidence or indeed, a combination of both.

The fact that the officer reached for and used his handcuffs clearly indicated that he was unaware of the plight of Mr Charles. He would have been aware of the dangers of positional asphyxiation that is now drummed into police officers at safety training sessions. This can occur if the restrained suspect is left lying face down for any length of time.

The Pathologists report

However, as the post mortem examination appears clearly to show, Mr Charles did not die because of extreme violence used towards him by the officer but because a package he attempted to swallow became lodged in his throat. The fact that no significant injuries were sustained by Mr Charles only confirmed that which was seen in the CCTV footage; namely that the struggle was not an especially violent one; attempting to place someone in a headlock is a frequently used tactic that I can remember from infant’s school and clearly cannot be construed as an intent to strangle.

The family, of course, are entitled to challenge the findings of the post mortem by virtue of securing one of their own but there is no evidence that this has occurred or, if it has, that there is any disparity in the results.

The officer concerned is highly thought of by both peers and supervisors and is said to be distraught at the outcome at what should have been a routine event. He clearly had no intention to cause serious injury or worse to Mr. Charles yet his actions have been condemned as the actions of a racist murderer who represents a racist police force and a racist police service.

Similar Tragic Events

The question has been posed as to whether, had the officer been black, the furore would have been as great or indeed whether there would have been any public concern had the suspect been white.

In 2015 33 stone drug dealer Stuart Sandeman died after he swallowed a cocaine package as police executed a search warrant at an address in Perth. Unlike with Rashan Charles, an extremely violent struggle ensued before Mr Sandeman collapsed and died. In April 2016 Mr Peter Jonathan died in Aberdare when he swallowed drugs after being approached by police. His cause of death was a combination of cardiac arrest associated with multi drug misuse and airway obstruction. In May 2016 Mr Kevin Bruner died after swallowing a heroin package when being arrested by officers in Bedford. In January 2017 Darian Hunt choked to death in Llanelli after swallowing a package when approached by police despite desperate efforts to save him by police and paramedics.

In none of the above circumstances were officers charged with any criminal offence or disciplined. All those who tragically died were white. There are other examples of deaths being caused in the aftermath of swallowing drugs packages both in public places and indeed in prisons.

Mouth searches

The assertion that the officer failed to act in accordance with ‘instructions’ set by the College of Policing appears somewhat misleading. I’m not aware that the college can ‘instruct’ or ‘order’ officers. The fact that the Met did order its officers not to physically attempt to remove packages from the mouth after the death of Mr Charles suggests that there was no existing instruction given to officers in respect of their actions during these incidents.

Interestingly, in his account, perhaps anticipating comments from officers previously under his command, Leroy Logan admits that mouth searches were conducted by his officers under his supervision, albeit carefully. Quite how that can be done if the suspect refuses to open his mouth I’m not sure.

In a presentation I used to give in relation to Operation Trident, there is a clip of documentary footage of police in the West End wresting drugs packages from the mouths of street dealers.

Dealing from the mouth was common then and is likely to be so again which could pose huge resource problems for police. It could also prove dangerous for those same street dealers if they opt to swallow if approached by police or even approached by those who they suspect of being ‘undercover’ officers.

Future Events.

There are still many outstanding issues in respect of Mr Charles. There could be a review of the CPS decision; there is still the possibility of the officer facing a misconduct hearing although this seems unlikely and in June there will be an inquest.

Possibly the question as to why Mr Charles swallowed a package containing paracetamol and caffeine will feature in relation as to whether he knew these were the contents or thought that the package contained another drug. A mixture of paracetamol and caffeine is a widely used cutting agent for Class A drugs.

It is also likely that any police/criminal history will be revealed as happened at Mark Duggan’s inquest. The tabloids reported that Mr Charles boasted of having been in prison, that he was ‘difficult to kill’ and was a drug dealer. A barrister representing the officers involved successfully argued for anonymity for the officers on the grounds that they were at risk from the local Holly Boys gangs whose less than appealing ‘grime’ videos can be found on You Tube. Doubtless these assertions will be verified or otherwise during proceedings.

I predict a riot

Shortly after the death of Mr Charles a protest took place in Hackney that turned violent. The Met, fearing a repeat of 2011, went to “full mobilisation” yet despite the violence, fears that the Hackney gangs would again forget their differences and launch a concerted attack on police proved unfounded. Equally, despite the hostile rhetoric seen on social media, the disorder, unlike 2011, didn’t spread across London or indeed the country.

There still remains talk amongst activists on social media as to the black community ‘boiling’ and the possibility of a riot yet it seems, concerned as many from the black community may be in relation to Mr Charles, the majority remain calm. Perhaps their priority is the disproportionate number of black shooting and stabbing victims which must be impacting on the lives of many, especially those with teenage children.

Feelings in relation to controversial stop and search issues which again enable the activists to vilify ‘racist’ police may be ameliorated by the seizure of 100’s of knives and guns which, despite the views of policing academics, will have unquestionably have prevented death and serious injuries. The community perhaps also realises that, despite occasional tragic events such as the death of Mr Charles, it’s the police who are often first on the scene of stabbings and shootings and will always do their best for the victim regardless of race, religion or any other factor.

One regrettable aspect of this whole affair is the possible effect on the future recruitment of black officers. I don’t know of any serving or retired officer who doesn’t wish to see more black officers in the Met or any other force.

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