A BLACK man with mental health issues who died in police custody told officers ‘I can’t breathe’ as they restrained him, an inquest has heard.
Kevin Clarke said ‘I’m going to die’ as he was put into two sets of handcuffs but was ‘ignored’ and lost consciousness as he was being taken to an ambulance, Southwark coroner’s court heard.
The relapsing paranoid schizophrenic lived at the Jigsaw Project, a residential support service in south London, for about two years until his death on March 9, 2018, at Lewisham Hospital.
He had been seen by officers earlier that day but was not sectioned despite concerns from staff at Jigsaw. Police were called again and the 35-year-old was found lying on the ground at the edge of a school playing field.
PC Lee Pidgeon said 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.
He said: ‘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.’
Video footage played at the inquest showed Mr Clarke being cuffed and he could be heard groaning and saying ‘I can’t breathe’ and ‘I’m going to die’.
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, comprehensible’.
Asked by coroner Andrew Harris why Mr Clarke was ‘ignored’ by the officers, PC Pidgeon replied: ‘I cannot answer that, sir, I don’t know.’
He added: ‘At that point I just wanted to get him to the ambulance. That was my sole goal. That was paramount for me.’
But Leslie Thomas, Mr Clarke’s family counsel, said it was ‘blatantly apparent’ he had 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 and said he demonstrated no signs of aggression that warranted restraint, adding it should have been a ‘last resort’.
PC Pidgeon said he would now think twice about handcuffing someone with mental health issues. He said: ‘I didn’t set out that day to have someone die on me. I genuinely feel bad for everyone involved.’ The inquest continues.