A police report to the Department of Justice has concluded that an allegation of a superintendent assaulting pedestrians did not constitute a criminal offence, local newspaper Apple Daily reveals.

Retired police commander Chu King-wai was filmed hitting pedestrians in Mong Kok on November 26 at the height of last year’s pro-democracy Occupy protests. The Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) voted in favour of substantiating Chu’s assault case last month.

But the police’s follow-up report to the Department of Justice has concluded that officers were required to use “an appropriate extent of physical force” that night, according to Apple Daily. Since Chu was on duty and did not target a specific individual, Chu’s use of baton against pedestrians was not considered to be a crime.

However, because the IPCC has substantiated the complaint, the report recommends that the complainer pursue civil action against Chu.

chu king wai police occupy hong kong
Chu King-wai was filmed hitting pedestrians with a baton.

The article, widely cited by local media outlets, is based on an anonymous source who has access to the report.

Recent developments suggest that police may have submitted such a report to the Department of Justice. On Saturday, Alan Lau Yip-shing, director of the police’s operations department, said that police are seeking legal advice from the Department of Justice and unable to disclose any details.

On July 29, a police spokesperson said that the force “respected the decision of the IPCC,” implying that it did not intend to overturn the watchdog’s ruling of substantiating the allegation against Chu.

If police insist on overturning the IPCC’s ruling, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying will make a final decision over the case. The response from the police suggest that the force has decided to let the Department of Justice handle it instead.

Tanya Chan of the Civic Party told HKFP that police have essentially passed on the responsibility to the Department of Justice. The barrister said that the police’s argument—that Chu was not targeting any specific individual—was unacceptable, and urged the police force to clarify whether it accepted the IPCC’s ruling as soon as possible.

HKU law professor Eric Cheung also said that the police’s reason had no legal basis. “It is common sense that it’s not okay to hit someone, even if you didn’t know the person,” said Cheung.

Osman Cheng, the individual who was filmed being hit by Chu, was unconvinced: “If it is not a criminal offence because Chu did not assault a specific target, does it mean officers can hit anyone at anytime?”

YouTube video

Videos of police officers hitting pedestrians with batons on that night have sparked public outrage. Upon receiving Cheng’s complaint against Chu, the IPCC investigated the case and ruled last month that the allegation was substantiated.

But police rejected the IPCC’s ruling two weeks ago and asked for another vote on the case. The IPCC subsequently held a meeting to discuss whether to accept new documents submitted by the police on July 23, and decided to uphold its ruling.

Police have not announced their next step in response to the IPCC’s report and rising public dissatisfaction with the way the force has handled the case.

A number of alleged police abuse cases emerged during the Occupy demonstrations last year. The police force has subsequently suffered a drop in public trust, according to a recent CUHK survey. Another survey conducted by HKU in June found that public satisfaction with the police force had declined to its lowest level since 2012.

Official figures reveal that of the 829 complaints of police assault between 2011 and 2013, none were substantiated.

Update (18:00 August 6): A spokesperson for the Department of Justice confirmed with HKFP that the department received information and request for legal advice from police last week. The spokesperson declined to comment further on the information provided by police.

Update (August 7): A police spokesperson told HKFP that the Complaints Against Police department is seeking legal advice  and unable to comment further.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.