Retired senior policeman jailed for hitting Occupy protest bystander with baton loses appeal and is sent back to Hong Kong jail
The case was the second time officers were found guilty of using excessive force while policing the 79-day pro-democracy protests
A retired senior police officer who fell from grace with a single strike of his baton during Hong Kong’s 2014 Occupy protests was ordered to serve his three-month jail sentence after losing his appeal in the High Court on Friday.
Frankly Chu, 58, argued in his appeal against both his conviction and sentence that he acted in good faith when he struck a man who ignored police instructions, and asked for a conditional discharge.
But judge Mr Justice Albert Wong Sung-hau backed the lower court in an 85-page ruling, concluding that Chu was not justified in using any force at all, yet he had struck the neck of a compliant man with a “potent weapon”, with the intent to inflict unlawful force.
“A law-abiding citizen is entitled to expect no such thing to happen on him,” Wong wrote. “If that happens, public confidence is shaken … What the appellant did, sadly, failed to meet the expectation. He also set a very bad example to his subordinates.”
Chu appeared calm as prison officers led him from the dock. His counsel Peter Pannu said Chu would have to study the judgment before deciding on further action.
The former superintendent was jailed by a magistrate for three months in January for striking Osman Cheng Chung-hang, 28, with a baton during a clearance operation in Mong Kok on November 26, 2014.
Chu was remanded in custody for two weeks after being found guilty of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, an offence punishable by three years’ imprisonment.
But he was released on HK$50,000 (US$6,400) bail immediately after sentencing, pending the appeal.
Scores of the retired officer’s supporters had arrived at the court on Friday morning to queue for seats to watch the proceedings, and their supportive chants of “Frankly Chu is innocent” outside the building could be heard on the fifth floor, where the hearing was held.
A large blue board said 112,004 people had signed a petition to show support.
The judge acknowledged that there was substantial public interest in the case given it involved a very senior and outstanding police officer, who displayed out-of-character conduct while policing at a time so stressful that it earned the magistrate’s sympathy.
“He fell from grace for a single strike with his baton, in the course of discharging his duty in a difficult situation, and at a difficult time not only for the police but also for the whole community of Hong Kong,” Wong continued.
“The effort of each member of the police force has to be recognised.”
The judge also noted the starting point for Chu’s sentence, four months, was “no doubt heavy”, but he said it was within a reasonable range and rejected other sentencing alternatives.
“I cannot accept that it is correct to order conditional discharge in the circumstances no matter how much sympathy I have for the appellant,” Wong said of Chu’s demand.
“The offence cannot be said to be of trivial nature.”
A woman cried after the hearing.
The chairman of the police’s Superintendents’ Association, Patrick Kwok Pak-chung, expressed disappointment at the judgment and said the union would offer Chu and his family continuous support, such as backing an appeal.
Outside court, police supporters the Treasure Friendship Group chanted: “Partial judiciary. A blow to the conscientious ones.”
Counter-protesters waited outside the cell holding unit, holding pictures of Chu behind bars.
The case was the second time a court had found officers guilty of using excessive force while policing the 79-day Occupy protests, which shut down major roads as protesters called for greater democracy. In February last year, seven police officers were jailed for two years on the same charge for punching and kicking an activist who poured liquid over their colleagues.
Their appeal will be heard in November.
Additional reporting by Chris Lau