Police officers face misconduct hearings over restraint death of mentally ill man

Three police officers face hearings for either gross misconduct or gross incompetence over the death of a mentally ill man who died after saying “I can’t breathe” while being arrested.

Kevin Clarke, 35, a relapsing paranoid schizophrenic, died at Lewisham Hospital in 2018 having been restrained by up to nine Metropolitan Police officers following an incident in Catford, south-east London.

An inquest at Southwark Coroner’s Court in 2020 heard Mr Clarke (pictured) told officers “I’m going to die” and “I can’t breathe” as he was put into two sets of handcuffs – linked together due to his size – along with leg restraints.

Issues raised during the inquest, which concluded the decision to use restraints on Mr Clarke was “inappropriate”, prompted the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) to reopen an investigation into his death.

The IOPC said: “We determined that two police constables should face gross misconduct hearings for alleged breaches of the police standards of professional behaviour relating to duties and responsibilities for failing to provide an appropriate level of care to Mr Clarke, and for honesty and integrity.

“We also determined that a police sergeant should be subject to gross incompetence proceedings for failing to adequately supervise the situation.”

A narrative conclusion from the inquest jury had said Mr Clarke died as a result of acute behavioural disturbance, in a relapse of schizophrenia, leading to exhaustion and cardiac arrest.

The restraints used by officers, which caused Mr Clarke to struggle, was cited as one of several contributing factors.

The police watchdog’s director, Steve Noonan, said: “It is now for the Metropolitan Police Service to organise proceedings for the three officers.”

It decided not to send a file of evidence for the Crown Prosecution Service to consider criminal charges.

Another police constable will have to discuss their actions taken while Mr Clarke was being walked to an ambulance, without the threat of discipline.

The IOPC found the remaining five officers have no case to answer.

Detective Chief Superintendent Trevor Lawry said: “Throughout this process our thoughts and sympathies have been with Mr Clarke’s family.

“Following the conclusion of the inquest we acknowledged our failings as a police service and apologised to Mr Clark’s family. I want to reiterate that apology today.

“I know this update will have a significant impact not only on the family but also the wider community, and want to offer my reassurance that we will look to bring these matters to a conclusion as soon as possible.

“It’s important we don’t pre-judge the outcome of proceedings in any way, but our communities rightly expect police officers to be subject to thorough scrutiny for the actions they take.

“We continually review our policies in line with national guidance around restraint as well as how we assist those in mental health crisis and are working with colleagues nationally to consider our training and guidance to officers in dealing with these kinds of fast-paced and challenging incidents.”

Mr Clarke’s mother, Wendy Strachan, said they were relieved the IOPC had finally come to a decision, but had hoped more officers would face misconduct proceedings.

“This process has taken nearly two years and our family is emotionally and physically exhausted with the delays and constant battle with the IOPC,” she said.

“We wouldn’t have had to go through this painful wait if the IOPC had carried out a proper investigation the first time round.”

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