A detective has been cleared of assaulting a teenager with a metal baton while arresting him over suspected drug possession.
Footage that circulated following the event appearead to show DC Kevin Rowley, 37, striking the 17-year-old as he cries out: ‘I am a child… this is illegal. You can’t do this.’
The plain-clothes officer was charged with assault by beating following an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
DC Rowley was attempting to search the youth on suspicion of possession of Class B drugs and put a handcuff on one of his wrists in Romford, east London, last April 22.
A trial at Hendon Magistrates’ Court on Thursday January 23 ended in his acquittal.
Footage that circulated following the event appeared to show DC Kevin Rowley, 37, striking the 17-year-old as he cries out: ‘I am a child… this is illegal. You can’t do this’. The plain-clothes officer was charged with assault by beating following an investigation by the IOPC
Commander Catherine Roper, from the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards, said: ‘Footage of this incident was circulated on social media and caused concern due to the force used against the male arrested.
‘We made a referral to the IOPC to allow an independent investigation to take place into all the circumstances as it is only right to maintain confidence on how we police London. ‘Use of force is a tactic police must use responsibly.
‘A court has decided today that DC Rowley’s actions were lawful. We have received the IOPC’s report into this incident and are liaising with them about any misconduct proceedings.’
Arabella Macdonald, prosecuting had told Hendon Magistrates’ Court: ‘The force he used was during a stop and search on a boy.
‘There is no dispute that force was used and there could be no dispute as part of that incident was there on camera by the public.
‘The question is whether or not that use of force was unlawful, the Crown say that it was, the defence submit the force was lawful.
‘DC Rowley beat the youth at least five times with his metal baton, taking full swings at him whilst the youth asked him to stop until the youth was on the floor asking people to call the police.
‘You are likely to hear evidence about why Mr Rowley approached the youth.
‘The youth’s brother ran off and there was a struggle between DC Rowley and the victim, what happened in the course of that struggle is unclear.’
In the video played in court the teenager is heard to sob: ‘He’s smacking me, he’s smacking me.’
After the baton swings, the youth says: ‘You’re going to court, we’re taking this to court.’
Giving evidence, Rowley dressed in a navy suit and tie and blue shirt said he was with another officer when he spotted two boys crossing a zebra crossing in Romford.
He said: ‘Initially we saw them as they crossed the zebra and the cars paused. One of them had a wad of cash notes in his hands raised to the sky. It looked a bit out of place.
Viral footage which shows a plain-clothes police officer beating a handcuffed teenager
‘They looked like they had no purpose there. They walked into a fish and chip shop for five seconds, and walked back out again.
‘Most people keep money in their wallet, or their bag. I said to the other police officer, keep an eye out on those boys. I thought they looked a bit weird.
‘I asked them what they had been up to and I was hit with a strong smell of cannabis.
‘It was coming from them. I told them they were going to be detained as part of a drug search. [The youth] said, ‘you’re not searching me, I know my rights.’
‘He then went to put his hands in his pockets. It’s part of our training – we don’t let anyone put their hands in their pockets.
‘I saw he had a mobile phone, a grey Samsung, and it was shining. I didn’t know what it was. It could have been a weapon for all I’m concerned. I grabbed his wrist, and [the youth] started to pull away.’
Rowley added: ‘Straightaway he told me, ‘you’re not searching me. I know my rights’.
‘He’s agitated, his fists were clenched.
‘It was clear from this immediate reaction he was not going to comply with anything we were trying to communicate to him.’
Members of the public in Romford shouted at the officer after he had arrested the youngster for possession of Class B drugs with intent to supply
The detective constable then claimed that he tried to get the youth on the floor, as it was the ‘safest place’, as the other officer ran off after the boy’s younger brother.
Rowley added: ‘I’m now alone with an agitated and aggressive male who is not complying. He’s made it clear that I’m not searching him. It’s a concern for me as I’m alone with this male.’
The officer said the boy said he wanted to see his brother, and that he tried to reassure him.
He said: ‘All I wanted to get him on the floor and detain him safely. He’d been handcuffed on the floor until further units turned up.
‘He went crazy. He was dragging me in between the parked car and the van. I’m telling him calm down, stop struggling.
‘I delivered two or three knee strikes to his thigh. It’s a use of force to try and get somebody to comply with what you’re asking to do.
‘I wasn’t trying to hurt him. All I was trying to do was detain him. Because he was in such a rage he was not listening to anything I was trying to do.
‘He said, ‘I’m not getting down’. Every cell in my body was going, ‘what’s going on?’
A plain-clothes officer appears to be beating a teenage suspect who is already handcuffed and offering no resistance
‘First of all, we could smell cannabis. But this behaviour was not possession of cannabis. I’ve had experience of catching people with knives, drugs, guns.
‘He was putting up such a fight I didn’t know what he had on him. He hadn’t been searched at this point.
‘He was aggressive, desperate to get away, pulling me, dragging me, pushing me. It was not the behaviour of someone who has a single count of possession on him.
‘He might be 17, but he’s my height and build, and he was very strong. Because he was so aggressive, he had a lot of adrenaline.’
Rowley said the only remaining tactical option he had was to use the baton.
He added: ‘I said, ‘I do not want to use force but I will if you don’t comply. I’m pausing to wait to see if he’ll react to what I’m telling him to do.
‘Before each baton strike, I see what he’s doing, and he’s not complying. I ask to myself, ‘does he understand? Is he still putting up resistance? Yes’.’
Rowley claimed he gave him five baton strikes on the thigh ‘as per officer safety training’.
He said: ‘As soon as he’s gone down and I’m happy he’s compliant, the baton goes away. There are no more baton strikes as he’s complied with what he’s going to do.
‘When he shouted, ‘I’m a boy. I’m a boy’, that was the first time I was aware of it. He’s 6’1, same build of me. I was saying to someone please call 999 as I dropped my radio in the struggle.
‘I was alone with an agitated large male and a large crowd that was abusing me. I needed help as I did from the start.
‘You can see from the video I’m calm, I’m controlled. I didn’t lose my temper. I delivered all over the baton strikes as per officer safety training.’
Other witnesses who saw the incident were called to give evidence at the court.
Anthony Bailey, who lived directly across the road, watched the incident from the kitchen where he had gone to make a cup of tea.
Mr Bailey said: ‘As part of my job I use restraint. He was struggling to restrain the youth.
‘He was struggling to keep him there from what I have experienced in safeguarding.
He said he heard DC Rowley shout: ‘Calm down’. Adding: ‘He had his baton out, there was a struggle and then I saw DC Rowley produce the baton.
Mr Bailey said the officer struck him as the teenager did not respond to his command to ‘get down.’
He said: ‘As far as what I can see it was from the back of the knee to the calf, all to the leg.
‘There’s more than one strike, from what I remember there was three. The moment the youth had one knee down that was the end of the baton striking.
‘From what I saw the officer was just struggling to get the youth to the ground.’
He said ‘It looked like the officer was trying to get him on the floor, trying to push him down. I heard the youth say ‘leave me alone’.
‘I heard him say ‘you’re hurting me’ something like that. I saw the officer produce the baton and from the angle I saw him strike him five times.
‘People were shouting and the crowd was shouting at them, then back up arrived. I would probably say about 5 or 6 minutes after the youth was on the ground.
Witness Teri Vigors, who lives above a shop on the same side of the road, told the court: ‘When I looked out of the window there was someone running off down the road.
‘It was someone running off at the end of the road, there was two people couldn’t tell you what were or looked like and someone down below my flat.
‘A young black guy and a white male, he was a police officer and said he was trying to do a stop and search.
‘He was a little bit hesitant, he obviously didn’t really want to be there, he was a bit edgy but did allow the police officer to put him in handcuffs without any problem.
‘He asked the young boy to sit down on the floor, it looked like he was trying to call for backup or speak to someone on the radio.
‘The young boy was asking about his brother, I think he was trying to find out about his brother, I can only assume.
‘He did get on the floor and kept getting up. The officer asked him to stay seated and he kept getting up again.
‘He was getting more irritable, the young guy kept getting up and moving further away.
‘He was edging slowly, the officer was effectively following him and asking him to stay in one place, for several minutes.
‘He obviously kept getting up and not listening, he kept edging away and getting more and more jumpy.
‘Like he was trying to make a way to get away, if that makes sense. He just wasn’t following the police officer’s instructions, eventually moves past that van and he seems to try to get away.
‘The police officer said he would have to use force if he didn’t listen. He removed his stick and repeated quite a lot of time he didn’t want to use it.
‘The police officer stated he didn’t want to use force and then struck him on the legs.’
She said the boy was ‘trying to irritate the police officer’ who had been reasonably calm until he used the baton.
‘I think I recall him saying he didn’t want to use force that was after they moved across to the shop.
‘He’s obviously got to the point where he was being really nice and really calm and raised his voice and withdraws the baton.
In her closing submissions Arabella MacDonald, prosecuting, said: ‘In short officers are in certain circumstances allowed to used force but the law is quite clear, it must be necessary and reasonable.
‘If it’s not necessary and reasonable then it is unlawful, the acts by DC Rowley to use that baton was unlawful.
‘You have heard evidence from a numb of witness and indeed other statement which you have read, becomes clear that there are a number of inconsistencies.
‘What is consistent is that this 17 year old boy was trying to get away.
‘It is not unusual for a boy to try and get away, that’s not something unremarkable, whether handcuffed or not.
‘DC Rowley knew from the moment the boy was on the floor he knew he was in trouble, he had succeeded in drawing a crowd by shouting ‘please stop, I’m a child’.
‘He carried on second third and fourth and fifth strike, he gets to the floor says call the police.
‘You can hear him say, don’t record me. He knows he’s in trouble. He knows.’
Kevin Baumber, defending, said: ‘This was a police officer trying to do his job and in fact doing it in text book fashion.
‘He was aware at once that he was under scrutiny, he never had any problem being filmed or didn’t welcome that scrutiny.
‘Consider the actions based on the honest held belief that that the defendant, even if he were mistaken was trying to do his job.
‘What he was doing was executing techniques he was trained to do. What he was not doing, was not a loss of control of temper, this was not a fight, not a brawl, not retribution, not punishment.
‘He was executing a technique he was taught, to a legitimate end.’
Mr Baumber said the independent witnesses gave evidence that the officer was ‘retaining composure, polite and, calm.
‘Even when escalation started he took a staged approach. Techniques were limited. Chain cuffs didn’t make pain compliance possible.
‘Gave verbal commands, raised ferocity, that too didn’t work.
‘The knee strikes, that was insufficient to achieve the ends.
‘The delivery of the strikes do reflect the training that he had revived, both in the ready stance, the targeting of the lower thigh, the use of force that he was trained to do, to achieve an end that was safe.
‘There is very strong evidence that what he was doing was what he thought was necessary to achieve his end.’
DC Rowley, of Southend, Essex, had denied assault by beating.
He is attached to the East Area Command Unit, covering Redbridge, Havering, and Barking and Dagenham.