Lifting elderly cabby up by the neck was unlawful force, Hong Kong policeman confesses, after driver dies following injury
But constable Lam Wai-wing tells court his actions were ‘not done willingly’ as taxi driver put up a vigorous struggle
A Hong Kong police officer confessed in court on Friday that he had applied unlawful force when he lifted a 65-year-old taxi driver off the ground by the neck during an arrest six years ago.
But constable Lam Wai-wing claimed it was Chan Fai-wong’s vigorous struggle on November 11, 2012, that had caused his arm to slip from the driver’s shoulders to the neck when he tried pulling the man into a police car.
“When I realised my arm was around his neck, I released it immediately,” Lam told the Coroner’s Court.
“I knew my force was unlawful, but my actions were not done willingly.”
Chan was diagnosed with a cervical vertebra dislocation two days after the arrest. He died a month later on December 12, 2012, of bronchitis he had contracted as a complication of the neck injury.
Six years on, Lam testified at an inquest into Chan’s death that the driver had put up an on-and-off struggle when officers tried to bring him back to the police station to investigate an alleged assault that had arisen from a taxi fare dispute.
“I’m not getting in the police car,” the driver was quoted as saying. “I’m driving my taxi away.”
Lam said Chan’s resistance had been “forcible” and posed harm to both himself and the accompanying officers. He could have responded with a “strike” in accordance with the police procedural handbook.
But Lam decided against using the available tactics, which included a front kick, side kick and pepper spray, because his team were only trying to load Chan into the car.
The officer explained in court using a demonstration how he had first tried pulling an agitated Chan up a step by grabbing the driver’s left arm.
But because Chan had been handcuffed behind his back, Lam said he changed tactic to prevent the driver from suffering a shoulder dislocation.
Had Chan cooperated, Lam said his colleague Ma Chun-hong would have been able to lift the driver’s legs, and that the man would have leaned against him so the load would not have fallen solely on the neck.
No excessive force used on Hong Kong taxi driver who died after he was put in headlock during police arrest, inquest hears
Security footage played in court showed Chan’s feet dangled in the air for several seconds. The video also captured him suddenly lunging forwards following one attempt by the officers to get Chan into the car. It then shows him lying on the ground.
But Lam testified that he checked if Chan had sustained any injury from the headlock, and found nothing, which explained why he did not tell paramedics about the manoeuvre.
“I believed he was tired,” Lam said of the lunge. “We [officers] felt tired even though we are trained.”
Lam also quoted Chan as saying: “I don’t have any injuries. I’m not getting in the police car.”
Chan’s widow walked out crying on Lam’s testimony. Her counsel, Neville Sarony SC, asked why the officers had not come up with a plan first before moving Chan, especially since they had not received training on how to load a resisting, handcuffed suspect into a police vehicle.
Sarony also questioned how Lam could have grabbed Chan’s shoulders.
“From your position standing above him, his shoulder was no higher than your waist,” the counsel said. “When you reached down your right arm, you crooked it around his neck.”
Lam disagreed, but did concede Sarony’s suggestion that what he did was dangerous and could have caused Chan injury.
“You’re pretty well built,” Sarony observed.
“Thank you,” Lam replied.
His testimony continues before coroner Ada Yim Shun-yee on Monday.