Hong Kong courts

Taxi driver who died after being put in headlock during police arrest was ‘killed unlawfully’

  • Officers were dispatched to dispute between Chan Fai-wong and a Japanese passenger outside Western Harbour Tunnel toll station in November 2012
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2018, 4:24pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2018, 10:58pm

The widow and daughters of a 65-year-old man who died a month after being put in a headlock during a police arrest tearfully embraced on Wednesday, after an inquest found in a rare verdict that he was killed unlawfully.

The finding, returned by five jurors following more than six hours of deliberation, dealt a blow to the police as most of the officers had argued they had used legal force when arresting taxi driver Chan Fai-wong on November 11, 2012.

The 3-2 majority verdict of “unlawful killing” also meant the officers involved could be criminally prosecuted over Chan’s death.

Chan Ying-hong, the eldest of Chan’s two daughters, said after all that time, justice had prevailed for her father – who had been an able taxi driver until the fatal encounter with police left him bedridden before his death.

“I hope the respective authorities will take reasonable action as expected by society,” she said, when asked if she anticipated criminal proceedings against some of the officers.

The verdict was delivered on what would have been Chan Fai-wong’s birthday.

The inquest which lasted for more than two weeks at the Coroner’s Court in West Kowloon centred on the altercation during an arrest, after officers were dispatched to a dispute between Chan and a Japanese passenger, outside a toll station on the Kowloon side of the Western Harbour Tunnel.

When Chan refused to get into a police van, the officers attempted to apprehend him.

Security footage played in court showed Chan being lifted from the ground into a police van, with a plain-clothes officer’s arm around his neck, while a uniformed officer carried his legs.

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.

While most of the officers who testified during the inquest insisted there was no misuse of force, a majority of the jury rejected the assertion on Wednesday.

They also saw the need to make recommendations aimed at reducing such unlawfulness in the future, including installing closed circuit television cameras in police vehicles and providing training sessions on how officers should transfer suspects to their vans.

The jury suggested that police should set up a system to notify a suspect’s family in various circumstances. And when officers suspected someone might have been injured as a result of a struggle, the officers should be made to tell medical staff in full detail, it said.

What you felt would have been beyond words. I hope [the inquest] has provided answers to your questions and you can move on
Coroner Ada Yim

Soon after learning the verdict, Chan’s widow and two daughters burst into tears, left the family stand, and embraced Neville Sarony SC, who had been representing them.

“May Chan Fai-wong rest in peace,” Sarony said, thanking the jurors.

Coroner Ada Yim Shun-yee also offered her condolences, saying the family must have been through a lot, finding their beloved suddenly becoming paralysed and later dying without reasons given.

“What you felt would have been beyond words,” she said. “I hope [the inquest] has provided answers to your questions and you can move on. And take care.”

During the inquest, police officers involved in the operation claimed Chan did not make any immediate complaints of feeling unwell.

They also said the method was reasonable or lawful, except constable Lam Wai-wing, the officer who carried out the headlock.

Lam admitted the neck attack was unlawful. But he said it was due to Chan’s struggle, which caused his arm to slip from Chan’s shoulder to his neck. He also acknowledged what he did was dangerous.

But Chan’s daughter said her father complained about being assaulted by police officers. She went to various police stations demanding an investigation but was told she would not get one.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, vice-chairman of the Legislative Council’s security panel, called it a “rare” verdict, but one which set out a compelling case for the Department of Justice to press criminal charges over the incident.

But he noted that if a criminal trial were to be held, it would not lead to automatic convictions. “It would be a different trial,” To said.

A police spokesman said the force would follow up on the court’s ruling appropriately and study the related recommendations.

A spokesman from the Department of Justice said it would provide legal advice after receiving the relevant materials from the law enforcement agency so as to ensure the investigation and other matters would be carried out in accordance with the law and the prosecution code.

The department would not comment further on the matter.

Additional reporting by Alvin Lum