The death of a homeless man whilst in the custody of the Correctional Services Department (CSD) was ruled to be a case of suicide by the coroner’s court on Friday.
Le Van Muoi, a 54-year-old unhoused person from Vietnam, had previously said he was a victim of police brutality. He was found lying on the ground unconscious in a cell at the Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre on October 8, 2020 with trousers tied around his neck. He died in the following day in hospital.
In February 2020, Le – and several other homeless people living at Tung Chau Street Park in Sham Shui Po – alleged to the media and police that a group of police officers had destroyed their personal belongings and attacked them during an anti-drug operation.
Le was later arrested in September 2020 for drug possession before he was found unconscious weeks later while in custody. Then pro-democracy lawmakers Fernando Cheung, Shiu Ka-chun and pastor Timothy Kwok – who had been assisting Le – held a memorial service for Le and raised doubts over the circumstances surrounding his death.
On Friday, a five-member jury of the Coroner’s Court unanimously ruled that Le had died by suicide following a two-day hearing. The jury accepted the forensic pathologist’s judgement on the cause of death, which included neck compression, self-strangulation and coronary artery atherosclerosis, The Witness reported.
26 minutes unvisited
Staff from the CSD told the court on Wednesday that Le was initially sent to Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre, where he was found attempting to take his own life on October 5, 2020. He was then transferred to Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre the following day and was added to a Medical Observation List.
According to a document submitted by the CSD to the Legislative Council in 2013, staff at the CSD will visit those on the Medical Observation List “at intervals not exceeding 15 minutes” and will keep detailed records of such persons.
However, according to CCTV footage played in court from the day of the incident, Le was seen – for 26 minutes – attempting to use his clothes to tie around his neck. No staff member visited him. He then appeared to lie motionless, until he was later discovered unconscious.
CSD staff said that, owing to a lack of manpower, they only monitored Le through CCTV when the incident took place. Although it was observed that Le had taken off his clothes, staff did not take any action as they thought it “normal” for those who are emotionally unstable to get undressed.
Ying Ho-wan, a forensic pathologist from the Department of Health who conducted an autopsy on the deceased, told the court on Thursday that he had determined the primary cause of death to be “neck compression” resulting from self-strangulation with clothing. Ying said it was “a rare case” in Hong Kong.
Following the ruling, the jury made three recommendations to the CSD, including adding more staff to observe those on the Medical Observation List. They said that 15-minute patrols should not be replaced with CCTV observation, and they urged the CSD to improve facilities such as setting up a sign-in system outside prison cells.
In response, former lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun told HKFP that he did not have much to say on the court’s ruling, except that he was disappointed that one no can ask the right questions for Shiu in the Coroner’s Court: “I believe that it is not easy for Le’s family and those caring about this incident to process the decision. I only hope the CSD can improve, and the family can stay well,” Shiu said in Cantonese.
Suspected police brutality
Following the homeless people’s report about suspected police brutality during the 2020 anti-drug operation, nine police officers were separately arrested on suspicion of criminal damage, obstructing the course of justice, and misconduct in public office.
The nine have been suspended from duty since their arrests, local media reported in late 2020.
In December 2020, the police announced that – after conducting an investigation and consulting the Department of Justice – they had charged eight of the police officers over suspected criminal damage, assault, obstruction of justice and misconduct in public office.
The case was scheduled to go to trial in January, 2021 but was later adjourned to January 2024.
Officers Kwok Chin-sing, Leung Fei-pang, Pong Chun-sze, Lam Wah-ka, Mok Chi-shing, Wan Pak-sze, Chan Sau-yip and Hon Ting-kwong will face a 20-day trial over a total of 10 charges.
|💡If you are in need of support, please call: The Samaritans 2896 0000 (24-hour, multilingual), Suicide Prevention Centre 2382 0000 or the Social Welfare Department 2343 2255. The Hong Kong Society of Counselling and Psychology provides a WhatsApp hotline in English and Chinese: 6218 1084. See also: HKFP’s comprehensive guide to mental health services in Hong Kong.|
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