A 65-year-old taxi driver who died a month after police grabbed him by the neck during an arrest in 2012 was unlawfully killed, an inquest ruled on Wednesday.
Five jurors at the Coroner’s Court voted three to two that taxi driver Chan Fai-wong was unlawfully killed, meaning the officers involved could be criminally prosecuted over Chan’s death.
The arrest on November 11, 2012 occurred after police officers attended a fare dispute between Chan and a Japanese couple outside a Kowloon toll station at the Western Harbour Crossing.
When the police arrived, the male passenger claimed he was attacked by Chan. However, Chan did not mention to officers that he had been attacked by the passengers, despite a visible injury on his elbow.
The officers attempted to apprehend Chan as he refused to get into a police van. An officer then grabbed him by his neck as he was lifted from the ground into the van.
Chan was sent to Queen Elizabeth Hospital that night but an X-ray examination did not find any issue with his neck. Two days after the arrest, he was diagnosed with a cervical vertebra dislocation. He died of bronchitis a month later on December 12, 2012, a complication relating to the neck injury.
During the court hearing, constable Lam Wai-wing admitted the neck grab was unlawful, and that it was a dangerous move. But he said he did so because of Chan’s struggle. He said he intended to grab Chan’s arms, but Chan’s struggle caused his arms to slip from Chan’s shoulder to his neck.
Lam said he realised he was grabbing Chan’s neck and released his arms. Chan denied he was injured when asked by Lam.
The jurors made four suggestions, including that surveillance cameras with voice recording functionality should be installed in police vans.
They suggested that officers should be trained better in moving those who are arrested. They also suggested that family members of arrestees should be notified as soon as possible unless those arrested refused, and also said that officers should notify first responders as soon as possible if they realise arrestees are injured.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To said he agreed with the suggestion to install surveillance cameras in police vans, as similar cases have occurred in vans in the past.
“The Department of Justice may ask the police to investigate again, and the police will see whether there is information that can be sent to the Department of Justice to follow up. The Department of Justice will then decide whether to prosecute,” he said.
Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said officers clearly used lethal force in the incident and the police must investigate if manslaughter was involved.
He said the police must remind officers to use the minimum level of force necessary during arrests.