Arrest of autistic man shows that this time Hong Kong police got it wrong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 May, 2015, 1:12am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 May, 2015, 6:59pm

Criticism, even outrage, is to be expected after the police wrongly arrested a young man in connection with the death of a 73-year-old. The suspect, who has mental health issues and is also autistic, can barely answer simple questions, yet he was made to admit having pushed and killed the elderly man even though he was actually in an institute at the time the incident happened.

His family is entitled to a full explanation as to why the young man, surnamed Au, was apparently not handled according to police guidelines on mentally incapacitated people. He was arrested on May 2 in connection with the death of the elderly man, who had been pushed to the ground while walking his dog in Sha Tin last month. The man later died in hospital. A police statement showed Au had confessed to pushing the man. But according to his brother, Au often repeats what he has been asked and is not capable of handling police questioning by himself. After being detained for some 50 hours, he was released on bail with a holding charge of manslaughter. Upon verifying his alibi with the institute, the police dropped the charge, just before it was due to go before the court. Au was also denied the medication he needed while in police custody, according to his family.

Internal guidelines state that police shall, as far as practicable, take statements from mentally incapacitated people in the presence of a guardian, relative, social worker or someone from outside the force. But the statement and the videotaping showed this guideline was not followed. The family has demanded an apology from the police. Last night, police issued a statement expressing "regret" for the ordeal suffered by Au and his family but stopped short of a full apology.

Guidelines are useful only if they are faithfully followed. The strong public reaction speaks volumes of the expectations placed on law enforcers. The blunder with the autistic man sits oddly with the force's reputation as Asia's finest, and calls for better staff training in dealing with people with special needs.