Cops face hearing after restrained Black man said 'I can't breathe' before dying

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Kevin Clarke died in police custody at Lewisham Hospital in 2018 (Image: PA)
Kevin Clarke died in police custody at Lewisham Hospital in 2018 (Image: PA)

Three Metropolitan Police officers will face proceedings for gross misconduct or gross incompetence following the death of a Black man who passed away in custody after telling cops "I can't breathe" as they restrained him.

Kevin Clarke, 35, was restrained by police officers in Lewisham, south-east London, on March 9, 2018, and died in hospital the same day. While he was being arrested, he warned the police "I'm going to die". An inquest in October 2020 determined that Mr Clarke died as a result of acute behavioural disturbance, in a relapse of schizophrenia, leading to exhaustion and cardiac arrest. It was established that the restraint used by police officers was one of several contributing factors in his death.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) announced in August 2021 it would investigate the cops' actions against after concerns were raised during the inquest. The investigation concluded in May 2023 and the IOPC said two police constables should face gross misconduct hearings while a sergeant must go through gross incompetence proceedings.

Cops face hearing after restrained Black man said 'I can't breathe' before dying rriddqixxiqezinvWendy Clarke (second left) and Tellecia Strachen (second right), the mother and sister of Kevin Clarke, outside Southwark Coroner's Court (PA)

The IOPC also said that a fourth officer, a police constable, should be subject to the reflective practice review process regarding their actions while Mr Clarke was being walked to an ambulance. IOPC director Steve Noonan said: "Our thoughts remain with the family and friends of Kevin Clarke and all those affected by this incident.

"We have determined that two officers have cases to answer for gross misconduct. We also determined that a third officer should attend gross incompetence proceedings. It is now for the MPS to organise proceedings for the three officers."

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The announcement comes after the watchdog challenged a Metropolitan Police gross misconduct hearing for one of the three officers, which the force held without notifying the watchdog or Mr Clarke's family. The IOPC said at the time: "The IOPC has taken the unusual step of challenging the misconduct meeting as the Metropolitan Police Service failed to notify us or Mr Clarke's family of the date of the hearing, so neither we nor the family were able to attend as the regulations provide for.

"The regulations exist to ensure the system is transparent and fair, and failure to follow them deprived the deceased's family of their right to be able to ask questions at the hearing and for the IOPC to make representations." The Met later apologised to Mr Clarke's family and said it had not been notified due to an "administrative error".

Cops face hearing after restrained Black man said 'I can't breathe' before dyingThe family of Kevin Clarke speaking outside Southwark Coroner's Court in London (PA)

The police force said since the IOPC's latest announcement "both officers have been placed on restricted duties", adding: "The IOPC found that the remaining five officers have no case to answer." Det Ch Supt Trevor Lawry, local policing commander for south-east London, said: "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.

"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." In its announcement, the IOPC said it decided not to send a file of evidence for the Crown Prosecution Service to consider any criminal charges.

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."

Chiara Fiorillo

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