The mother of a black man who died after he was restrained by officers has told an inquest he had a fear of police as he had been ‘mistreated’ and Tasered in the past.
Kevin Clarke died in police custody at Lewisham Hospital in March 2018, following an incident in the Polsted Road area of Catford, south-east London.
The 35-year-old – 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.
On March 9, the day he died, staff at the facility had called police, having become concerned that he was relapsing and needed to be sectioned so he could be taken care of at a hospital, Southwark Coroner’s Court heard.
One community forensic support worker, whose statement was read, described Mr Clarke as having appeared ‘lost and confused’ early that afternoon as he stood outside in the same spot for a period of time.
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
Two police officers had attended but told staff that when they spoke to Mr Clarke he said he was ‘just chilling’ and that they had not assessed him to be a ‘high enough risk’, the inquest heard, and had left the scene at around 2.30pm.
But Wendy Clarke said she spoke to her son at 2.41pm and said he told her, ‘Mum, I am coming to yours’, and shortly afterwards the phone cut off.
When she rang again an officer answered and she expressed concern, asking if they were going to Taser him or arrest him and the officer said no, she told the hearing.
She later spoke to another officer and also to her son’s care worker to check what was happening. At 5pm she was visited by officers to tell her that her son had died.
Tearfully, she said: ‘When two officers turned up at my door telling me my son had died even though I had just spoken with my son, his housing management and the police that restrained my son, it all came as a massive shock and completely caused me to break down. I had no idea how this could have happened.’
Paying an emotional tribute to her first-born child, she described him as a ‘friendly, gentle giant’ and said he had once told her ‘I’m a lover, not a fighter’.
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
She added: ‘Kevin had told me that he feared the police because they had in the past mistreated and Tasered him.’
She said her son would have so-called episodes, also referred to by her family lawyer Leslie Thomas QC as a mental health crisis, every six months or so and would ‘go quiet’ and not eat or sleep during these periods.
Mr Thomas asked her whether these incidents of Tasering had happened in the past during such episodes and whether his encounters with police were when he was unwell and she said they were. She said he had been traumatised by the incidents.
She told the inquest: ‘He was fearful. He feared for his life because of the trauma that he has suffered before by the police.’
A statement from a GP noted that Mr Clarke had been dependent on cannabis when he was last seen by a doctor in 2018 and had been ‘for some time’.
It was also noted in a statement by one care co-ordinator that when Mr Clarke was well he was sociable and engaged with others, but that during periods of being unwell he could become ‘aggressive’ and ‘violent’.
Taking Ms Clarke through her statement to the inquest, senior coroner Andrew Harris put it to her that she had a series of concerns about what had happened in the lead-up to her son’s death.
He said: ‘You are clearly keen that this inquest explores whether there was appropriate force used.’
She is also concerned that, having seen footage of the incident, CPR was carried out while her son remained handcuffed, he added.
Following Mr Clarke’s death the police watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, launched an investigation, and finalised its report in March last year.
The IOPC said it would provide the outcomes of its investigation after the inquest.