Police restraint ‘probably’ caused the death of paranoid schizophrenic black man, 35, who was shouting ‘I can’t breathe’ while in custody, inquest jury finds

  • Kevin Clarke, 35, died in police custody at Lewisham Hospital in March 2018
  • Jury said officers’ use of restraints was ‘inappropriate’ given low level of risk 
  • Said officers’ use of restraints ‘escalated the situation to a medical emergency’

Police restraint ‘probably’ caused the death of a paranoid schizophrenic black man who was shouting ‘I can’t breathe’, an inquest jury found today. 

Kevin Clarke, 35, died in police custody at Lewisham Hospital in March 2018, following an incident in the Polsted Road area of Catford, south-east London.  

The jury said officers’ use of restraints was ‘inappropriate’ given the relatively low level of risk he posed.

The jury found Mr Clarke’s medical cause of death was an acute behavioural disturbance in a relapse of schizophrenia, leading to exhaustion and cardiac arrest, contributed to by restraint, struggle and being walked. 

Kevin Clarke - who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 17 - had been living at the nearby Jigsaw Project, a support service for people with mental health issues, for around two years up until his death in police custody in Lewisham Hospital, in March 2018

Kevin Clarke – who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 17 – had been living at the nearby Jigsaw Project, a support service for people with mental health issues, for around two years up until his death in police custody in Lewisham Hospital, in March 2018

Jurors said: ‘It is highly likely that at least one officer heard Mr Clarke say ‘I can’t breathe’, on one of the occasions he repeated it.

‘Despite this, no action was taken other than one officer saying ‘you’ve got to breathe, you’ve got to breathe, breathe, deep breaths’.

‘Failure to remove restraints at this point was contrary to guidance and training.’ 

Clarke – who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 17 – had been living at the nearby Jigsaw Project, a support service for people with mental health issues, for around two years up until his death.  

Discussing the use of restraints, the jury said: ‘The officers’ decision to use restraint was inappropriate because it was not based on a balanced assessment of the risks to Mr Clarke, compared to the risk to the public and the police.

‘It appears Mr Clarke was generally co-operative and responsive up until the point when officer laid hands on him.’

They added: ‘It appears that the officers’ decision to restrain Mr Clarke was unduly influenced by the knowledge that he had been Tasered on a previous occasion, they did not sufficiently take into account other facts that were clearly evident.’

They also said the use of restraints was a high-risk option, which ‘escalated the situation to a medical emergency’. 

Mr Clarke, 35, died in police custody at Lewisham Hospital (pictured) in March 2018, following an incident in the Polsted Road area of Catford, south-east London

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