Epileptic man who died was restrained face down by police for more than seven minutes

An epileptic man who died after being restrained face down by police officers was held in a van for seven and a half minutes before receiving medical attention, a misconduct panel has heard.

Duncan Tomlin fell unconscious after a struggle with Sussex Police officers when he was detained during a disturbance on July 26 2014 in Haywards Heath.

His partner warned officers he had epilepsy and could be having a seizure, but he was wrestled to the ground, sprayed with an incapacitant and later handcuffed, placed in leg and thigh restraints and held face down on the floor before being carried into a police van with his legs curled up behind him, the hearing in Lewes was told.

The 32-year-old, originally from Oxfordshire, was taken to hospital but never regained consciousness and died on July 29.

Pathologists found traces of recreational drugs in his system. They said this and positional asphyxia – where someone suffocates because they cannot breathe properly due to the position they are in – played a part in his death, the panel sitting at the Sussex police and crime commissioner’s office heard.

Sergeant Christopher Glasspool and police constables Jamie Jackson and Daniel Jewell are accused of “inexplicable” delays in removing the restraints when they realised there was a medical emergency, the police force’s barrister Mark Ley-Morgan told the hearing.

Sgt Glasspool, who believed Mr Tomlin was under the influence of drugs and alcohol, is also accused of failing to properly assess the situation and take into account the dangers of positional asphyxia.

He admits it was his responsibility to supervise the incident but denies failing to identify the medical emergency.

All three deny misconduct and gross misconduct, insisting they acted appropriately.

Two other officers who were present at the time have also been investigated. Pc Russell Watson faced a private misconduct hearing on Friday and was cleared of all allegations against him. Pc Alex Bennett resigned before disciplinary proceedings could be brought.

The pair responded to a 999 call when a member of the public reported neighbours fighting, the hearing was told.

When they arrived at 11.52pm Mr Tomlin was standing outside but ran off. His partner Ann-Marie Botting warned officers he was having or about to have a seizure due to epilepsy, the panel heard.

Mr Tomlin punched Pc Watson in the face when officers followed him into a nearby road and the pair fell to the floor in a violent struggle, Mr Ley-Morgan said. Mr Tomlin was sprayed in the face with an incapacitant but turned it on Pc Watson and was arrested for assaulting a police officer.

Off-duty Detective Constable David Shahbazi heard the commotion and came to assist. Sgt Glasspool, Pc Jackson, Pc Jewell and two other officers – who are not the subject of misconduct proceedings – arrived when a call was made for back-up.

Mr Tomlin was restrained on the floor face down and carried into the police van. He could be heard “groaning and shouting” while being detained, Mr Ley-Morgan said.

Giving evidence, Pc Watson said he told Sgt Glasspool what he heard about Mr Tomlin’s epilepsy but explained he did not think he was showing signs of a seizure. In cross-examination, he conceded he could not remember the exact conversation.

Mr Ley-Morgan said: “If Sgt Glasspool received this information, he ignored it and he failed to treat Mr Tomlin as a medical emergency.”

CCTV footage played during the hearing of inside the van showed the officers kneeling on Mr Tomlin’s back and legs while he lay face down on the floor in handcuffs.

His last visible body movement – apart from the rise and fall of his chest – when he moved his hand was a minute and 33 seconds after being carried into the van, Mr Ley-Morgan said.

It is a minute and 47 seconds before his legs were straightened out.

He was moved on his side three minutes and 21 seconds after being put in the van when Sgt Glasspool became concerned that his breathing was “laboured”, the panel heard.

An ambulance was called but stood down when it was decided it would be quicker to take him straight to hospital.

It was another three minutes and 39 seconds before the first leg restraint was removed and four minutes and seven seconds before the handcuffs and thigh restraints were taken off, the hearing was told. Mr Ley-Morgan said this should have happened “immediately”.

He added: “There is no adequate explanation as to why there was a delay. There was a wholly inexplicable delay (in removing the restraints). We say, an unjustified delay.”

Mr Tomlin was in the van for seven minutes and 31 seconds before being carried out, placed on the ground and given CPR, the panel heard.

Paramedics were called back to the scene while another officer went to pick up an A&E doctor from nearby Princess Royal Hospital, arriving back at 12.26am. He said he was told Mr Tomlin may have taken drugs but not about a possible seizure or epilepsy, the panel heard.

Mr Ley-Morgan added: “Failure (to deal with the situation) is so serious that it amounts to gross misconduct and dismissal would be justified.”

The hearing, expected to last until Friday, continues.

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