Police watchdog threatened with legal action over man’s death | Independent Office for Police Conduct
The police watchdog has been threatened with legal action for refusing to investigate whether the conduct of officers who restrained a man for a long time committed a criminal offense or whether their behavior amounted to misconduct.
Neal Saunders, 39, died on September 3 after officers in Thames Valley stopped him at his father’s home.
Saunders, who had acute behavioral disturbances, is later captured on body-worn camera footage telling officers, “I can’t even breathe.”
His family’s lawyers say he was held for a long time.
On April 8, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC Fund) announced its decision not to register the case as a driving investigation. In the letter, the body concluded: “The evidence does not suggest that there are any behavioral problems arising from the actions of the officers in their interaction with Mr. Saunders and, therefore, the IOPC Fund does not consider that the investigation should be treated as a criminal matter. “
Ronald Saunders, Neal’s father, is considering legal action against the IOPC Fund if he does not withdraw his refusal decision.
He said he called the police for help when his son started behaving erratically and now has to “live with the guilt” for what happened.
Concerns about his condition led officers to call an ambulance, the IOPC Fund said. Saunders later died at Wexham Park Hospital.
A pre-action letter was sent to the IOPC Fund on Wednesday, according to the Guardian, by Bindmans LLP, which represents Ronald Saunders.
She intervenes in the midst of renewed calls for legal accountability of people and institutions involved in deaths.
Deborah Coles, CEO of Enquest, said: “There have been a series of deaths which have raised serious concerns about the police use of dangerous restraints. The use of force and restraint by the police requires careful consideration, especially the actions and decisions of the officers directly involved. “
The charity said that since 1990, investigating juries had rendered nine verdicts of unlawful homicide involving police and that a public inquiry into a police shooting had recorded a finding of unlawful homicide, as well as other critical findings on the use of force. None resulted in convictions for manslaughter or murder.
In January, survey testified orally to the Home Affairs Committee on the basis of its investigation report into police conduct and complaints, highlighting what it described as persistent obstacles to access to justice in the investigation process and complaint for families bereaved by deaths in police custody and in contact with the police.
Coles added: “That the IOPC Fund instead just treat the agents involved in Neal’s death as merely witnesses is beyond belief. When there are misconduct, they must be identified, in order to hold those responsible to account and to ensure that changes are made to protect lives in the future. “
Saunders said: “I am truly disappointed that the IOPC Fund refused to register my son’s death as a matter of conduct and that they are treating the officers as if they were just witnesses in the case. This means that these officers will potentially avoid individual responsibility for their conduct – both in terms of strength and their inability to provide my son with a basic level of care as he struggled to breathe.
“It just doesn’t feel right to me and I feel my views and concerns have been ignored by the IOPC Fund in favor of the police reports of events. I feel so empty and disappointed.
A spokesperson for the IOPC Fund has confirmed that it is investigating the circumstances surrounding Saunders’ death while in custody and that the evidence gathered by their investigators, including video footage worn on the body, indicates that ‘he was held up during the incident. The IOPC Fund’s investigation began on September 7 following a mandatory referral.
The spokesperson said: “We are examining how the police interacted with Mr. Saunders during the incident and the level of care provided while in detention.
“The officers involved are treated as witnesses and this is subject to scrutiny, as is the case with all investigations.
“In view of the fact that our investigation is ongoing and the pre-action letter we have received from attorneys for Mr. Ronald Saunders, we are unable to comment further at this time.”