Police ignored pleas for ambulance, say family of man who died in custody
A family whose son died in police custody have said that arresting officers ignored their pleas to make a potentially life-saving call for an ambulance as the young man lay in the street, having been pepper-sprayed and batoned.
Ann and Jake Michael, from Widnes, Cheshire, watched Jacob being restrained by 11 officers and urged police three times to call for medical help, they said during their first interview since his death on 22 August.
Some witnesses to the arrest told the Guardian that Cheshire police officers hit the 25-year-old man with batons after he was restrained with handcuffs.
Jacob was arrested 30 metres from the family home after dialling 999 from the small house in Lacey Street and hanging up without saying a word.
He had arrived home in an agitated state after a weekend of partying, and he was rambling about being threatened with a gun, his parents said during the interview.
According to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which is investigating the death, two officers from Cheshire police arrived at the family home at 5.10pm, citing welfare concerns after receiving the abandoned emergency call.
Ann Michael happily invited the officers inside, but said the mood became “threatening” when they asked her son to open his bedroom door. “He didn’t believe these were the police,” his father said.
Instead, Jacob rang the local police station, using his mobile, to confirm their identities, something the IPCC has confirmed. This irritated the officers, according to his parents. “They were so aggressive, saying, if you don’t open the door, we’re going to break it down. Very scary. Threatening,” Mr Michael said.
One officer was “getting bored” with their son’s behaviour, said Mrs Michael, so he broke down the door and released pepper spray into his face.
“Straight away, pepper spray. And my lad says ‘please don’t, I’ll do anything, please don’t’,” said Mr Michael. The parents described the way their son was pinned against his wardrobe, waving his hands in the air in an attempt to fend off the noxious spray.
His parents said Jacob then ran through the officers, out of the house, screaming for “help” and shouting “call the police”, as police chased him. The noise drew nearly 50 people out of their homes, on to the street, according to eight of those local people spoken to by the Guardian.
Dominic Smith, 21, had been sitting outside his house, smoking a cigarette, when he saw Jacob running shirtless up the street, then to the junction of his road where he was pulled down by officers. One neighbour who saw the arrest said officers hit Jacob with batons as he ran; others said he was struck with batons after he was on the floor, with hands restrained behind his back and legs tied with fluorescent straps in two places. More police arrived, neighbours said, and the IPCC confirmed that 11 officers attended the scene.
Smith said one officer had his knee on Jacob’s head, pushing his face into the road. Diane Owen, another neighbour, said the mass of police then piled on top of him. Nothing could be seen of Jacob except his trainers.
One officer returned to the bedroom and began searching it while Jacob was being held down on the street, his father said, adding that the officer said he had found a small hammer in one corner of the room, claiming that this is what the officers had been threatened with.
Back on the street, Owen said that some time after 5.15pm Jacob was “thrown” into the police van “like a piece of meat”.
His parents said Jacob had a previous criminal record for non-payment of fines, about seven years ago, but there was no reason now for the police to have suspected anything.
The IPCC said Jacob was arrested for alleged affray. However, the commission has not yet explained why officers entered the young man’s room after police initially had concern for his welfare.
Mr Michael said he and his wife repeatedly begged police to call an ambulance. “My wife told them … that when they get to the police station to have a doctor to see him first thing. He looked so unwell, he was motionless, after they hit him with batons,” Mr Michael said.
“My son rang the police for help but basically they came here and pepper-sprayed him in his own bedroom,” said Jacob’s father. “All he needed was a doctor, not the police.”
Last month, Cheshire’s assistant chief constable, Philip Thompson, said: “There is no evidence that the use of pepper spray was the sole factor or indeed a contributory factor to Mr Michael becoming unwell some time after his arrest.”
The pathologist’s initial report has been inconclusive about the cause of death; a toxicology report is expected to reveal more. The family have commissioned an independent pathologist, who is expected to report in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, they will bury their son on Thursday.
The IPCC has told the parents that when Jacob arrived at Runcorn custody suite he had to be carried from the van by officers and civilian staff.
“I believe they were carrying a dead weight. I believe my son died in the van or [soon after] in the police station,” said Mr Michael.
The Michaels also said an IPCC investigator has seen CCTV footage from the custody suite’s foyer, which shows their son being held flat on his stomach with his face pressed into the floor for six minutes, still handcuffed. The IPPC also told the parents that another police officer alerted those restraining Jacob that the colour had drained away from his face. Only then was an ambulance called.
But more than simply expressing their anger, Ann and Jake Michael want answers. “All we want is the truth,” Mrs Michael said. “What was up with him, what happened to him and what contributed to his death. And we have to know that … We’ve got to live with it for the rest of our lives.”
Cheshire police said it is unable to comment because of the IPCC investigation.
No officers have been suspended by Cheshire police over the event.Guardian 30/9/2012 http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/sep/30/police-ambulance-family-man-custody
The footage the jury was shown of the custody suite can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-19788395