Kevin Clarke: Man who died in custody said ‘I can’t breathe’

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image captionKevin Clarke was handcuffed twice when he collapsed

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.css-14iz86j-BoldText{font-weight:bold;}A man who died in police custody told officers “I can’t breathe” as they restrained him, an inquest has heard.

Kevin Clarke, a 35-year-old with paranoid schizophrenia, told officers “I’m going to die” as he was put into two sets of handcuffs.

Southwark Crown Court heard he was “ignored” and then lost consciousness as he was taken to an ambulance.

He had been living at the Jigsaw Project, a residential support service, up until his death on 9 March 2018.

The court heard he was seen by officers earlier that day but was not sectioned despite concerns from staff at Jigsaw.

The police were called later and Mr Clarke was found lying on the ground on the edge of a school playing field.

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‘Going to die’

PC Lee Pidgeon told the inquest Mr Clarke had begun to get “a bit fidgety” and the use of handcuffs to restrain him was appropriate as he was showing signs of acute behavioural disorder (ABD).

“This was unusual behaviour and it was obvious to me [Mr Clarke] needs urgent medical attention,” he said.

“It suggested to me that perhaps he was getting a bit unnerved. Maybe he’s starting to get a second wind.

“If he had got to his feet with increased strength there was a possibility that one of us could have been hurt or he could have run off.”

Officers placed Mr Clarke in two sets of handcuffs due to his size and in the footage he could be heard groaning, saying “I can’t breathe” and “I’m going to die”.

Kevin Clarkeimage copyrightFamily handout
image captionMr Clarke was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 17

PC Pidgeon said he had not heard what Mr Clarke said at the time but admitted that in the footage his speech “seems quite clear [and] comprehensible”.

When asked by coroner Andrew Harris why Mr Clarke was “ignored” by the officers there, the officer said: “I cannot answer that, sir, I don’t know.”

He added his priority was to get Mr Clarke to the ambulance as soon as possible as he was in need of “urgent medical attention” as he had collapsed.

“I think the position that Mr Clarke was in – if we took his cuffs off, we’re wasting valuable time,” he said.

‘Last resort’

But Leslie Thomas, family counsel, said it was “blatantly apparent” Mr Clarke was having difficulty breathing and the force used was “completely disproportionate”.

Mr Thomas also highlighted multiple factors that may have put Mr Clarke at a heightened risk of asphyxia such as his weight, body position and the stress of the situation.

He said Mr Clarke demonstrated no signs of aggression that warranted restraint, adding it should have been a “last resort”.

Referencing the video footage, he said when a female officer took Mr Clarke’s hand, as soon as she said “you’re hurting me” he let go.

“I think we can all agree that at no stage before you laid hands on him had he been aggressive,” he said.

PC Pidgeon said he believed restraint was “necessary and safe” for Mr Clarke at the time and he had followed correct police training procedures.

He said the incident had caused him to reflect and that he would now “think twice” about handcuffing someone with mental health issues.

He added: “I do think about it to this day.

“I didn’t set out that day to have someone die on me. I genuinely feel bad for everyone involved.”

The inquest continues.

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  • Metropolitan Police Service
  • Deaths in custody

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