No excessive force used on Hong Kong taxi driver who died after he was put in headlock during police arrest, inquest hears
Officer says suspect was resisting and agitated as the team struggled to carry the handcuffed man into police van
Reasonable force was used on a Hong Kong taxi driver who was put in a headlock during his arrest and later died of complications from a neck injury, the city’s Coroner’s Court heard during an inquest on Wednesday.
But Constable Ma Chun-hong, one of the officers who dealt with taxi driver Chan Fai-wong in the incident on November 11, 2012, was initially reluctant to say if he had punched 65-year-old Chan, the court heard.
On Wednesday coroner Ada Yim Shun-yee asked Ma, who was 27 at the time, whether he wanted to answer the question. “No,” Ma replied.
The inquest was sparked by Chan’s death on December 12, 2012 at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Jordan, where he was sent after his arrest. He was detained over an alleged assault on a passenger following a fare dispute.
Security footage played in court showed Chan was lifted from the ground into a police van, with his arms handcuffed behind his back and an officer’s arm around his neck, while Ma offered help.
“The sergeant instructed me to move him into the vehicle without telling us how to do it,” Ma explained. “We used our common sense to put him in.”
But Neville Sarony SC, representing Chan’s family, questioned: “Why so much aggression towards this taxi driver by you and your colleagues?”
Ma said: “The force that I used at the time was reasonable, and the purpose of that was to put him under control with the lowest degree of force. When that was achieved, we immediately stopped.”
He also explained that the degree of force used by police depended on the incident, the suspect and the extent of resistance. In this case, he said an agitated Chan was resisting and being uncooperative, as he refused to board the vehicle and was kicking his legs.
“The force I used was reasonable,” Ma repeated.
“Even though it appeared you were punching him?” Sarony asked.
But he later clarified with his counsel Priscilia Lam that he did not actually see his colleague’s arm around Chan’s neck because he was focusing on the driver’s arms and legs.
Senior Constable Lum Chi-wan, who stood watch as Chan was being loaded into the police van, testified he did not see any officer use unreasonable force at the time.
Chan was picked up by an ambulance 30 minutes later.
A triage assessment found Chan suffered a head injury, a nose bleed and bruises on his limbs. It was also recorded that he vomited once.
Constable Lit Kwok-wai, who arrived at the hospital to guard Chan on November 12, said the driver complained of pain in his neck and waist.
Another constable, Lee Kin-chung, recalled a complaint of back pain from Chan when he took over Lit’s watch the next day.
Chan’s escorting officers at the hospital, who were on duty from November 11 to 13, also testified to seeing him conscious, but unable to move his hands. They said he did not ask for any family visit.
An MRI scan revealed Chan’s cervical vertebrae – bones directly below the skull – had been dislocated.
An autopsy found his underlying heart disease impaired his cardiopulmonary function, which together with his neck injury that left him bedridden, caused him to contract bronchitis that eventually killed him.
The 10-day inquest that began on Tuesday continues.