A taxi driver who died after police officer lifted him, handcuffed, in a chokehold by his neck will have a fresh death inquest, the High Court ruled today, after a judicial review by officer Lam Wai-wing overturned the original verdict of unlawful killing.
Taxi driver Chan Fai-wong, then 65, was involved in a scuffle over fares with passengers at the Western Harbour Tunnel on 11 November, 2012. Police were called and Chan was arrested and handcuffed with his hands behind his back. During a struggle to move Chan into the police van, officer Lam “for a brief moment” contacted his arm around Chan’s neck.
Chan suffered severe spinal cord injuries, becoming tetraplegic before passing away a month later.
At the original death inquest in 2018, a jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing, finding the officer had intentionally damaged Chan’s central nervous system, causing the victim to be bedridden and contract complications which caused his death.
The family of the deceased also claimed Chan had been beaten by the police while in hospital.
A superintendent giving evidence at the original inquest said the techniques to restrain and manoeuvre Chan did “not directly correspond with those suggested in the Resistance Control syllabus” and that ” officers were trained that the neck and head were fragile.
“If intentionally somebody grabs someone by the neck from a height and brings them into a vehicle, clearly that is not reasonable or proportionate,” he had told the original inquest. “To intentionally do so to someone who is handcuffed would not, in my opinion, be proportionate or justifiable.”
The jury did not believe the police officer’s evidence that “his arm slipped accidently from where he had intended to put it”.
“Whether or not the force used was reasonable was to be assessed in the context of a young well-built officer responsible for a 65 year old man with hands cuffed behind, pulling him off the ground,” wrote the High Court judge Albert Wong.
But lawyers for Lam claimed the jury had been misdirected by the Coroner, and that the inquest never found an intention to apply unlawful force: the intention being an important aspect of “unlawful killing”.
Lam’s lawyers also argued the chokehold lasted “no longer than a few seconds” and was one of many movements during the “long struggle” between the two men.
“There is no evidence which indicates that the Applicant had intended anything other than to complete the task of getting the Deceased onto the police car by using reasonable force,” they told the court.
“The situation was at worst a case of error of judgement,” they said, claiming there were also weaknesses in the case proving causation of death.
The High Court agreed with the majority of Lam’s arguments and ordered the original verdict struck out, with a fresh Death Inquest ordered and the daughter of the deceased, Chan Ying-chi to pay costs.