How the Metropolitan Police can learn from America

I was delighted to read that the two black men wrongly arrested at a Starbucks Cafe by Philadelphia Police last month have reached a financial settlement with the Police so quickly.

On April 12, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson arrived 10 minutes early for a business meeting at Starbucks in Philadelphia.  Upon arriving, Nelson asked whether he could use the toilet and was told by the white manager of the store that the toilets were for paying customers only.

After Nelson returned to the table where Robinson was sitting, the manager approached them to ask whether they wanted to order.  They declined.

Two minutes later, the manager called the Police to report “two gentlemen in my cafe that are refusing to make a purchase or leave”.  Police Officers arrived a few minutes later.

The officers told Nelson and Robinson that they had to leave without any discussion. They were then arrested but without being told the reason.

Both men were handcuffed to the rear and escorted to the nearest Police Station on the basis of trespass and creating a disturbance.  The arrest was captured on video.

After nearly 9 hours in custody, the men were finally released without charge because prosecutors advised that there was “a lack of evidence that a crime …..  (had been) committed”.

The arrests prompted a #Boycott Starbucks Campaign and protests at the particular store in Philadelphia.  Such was the backlash, Starbucks apologised on Social Media and the Company’s Chief Executive issued a public apology.  The manager who called the Police was sacked and the Company announced that it would close its stores on May 29 to give anti-bias training to all of its employees.

In response to allegations of wrongdoing, the Philadelphia Police Commissioner’s first reaction was that his officers had been “professional” and had done “absolutely nothing wrong. They followed policy; they did what  they were supposed to do”.   After further investigation however, he changed his tune dramatically, offering a personal apology and saying that if he had done anything to worsen race relations in the city, “shame on me”.

I mentioned at the outset that the two men and the Police have reached an out of court settlement just weeks after the incident.  Both men will each receive a symbolic $1.  In addition they have secured a commitment to fund a pilot program to help young entrepreneurs in underserved communities.  One element of that program is training in financial literacy.

In response to the news of the settlement, Jim Kenney, the Mayor of Philadelphia said in a statement that he was “pleased” that the potential claims had resolved “in this productive manner” and that specifically that rather  than spending time, money and resources to engage in a potentially adversarial process, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson approached the city and invited us to partner with them in an attempt to make something positive come of this”.

In my opinion, this was a fantastic settlement and a great credit to both the men and the Police Force.

In my experience, those unlawfully arrested by the Police are not normally seeking financial  compensation to enrich themselves but rather a public recognition that they were wronged and ensuring that lessons will be learnt to prevent others from having to share their experience.

Sadly, such a positive and proactive approach to settlement is rarely, if ever,  taken by Police Forces in England and Wales.  I have previously written about the policies adopted in response to claims against the Police.  (click here)

In fact, I am currently embroiled in an ongoing case for another young black man against the Metropolitan Police that exposes the significantly different approach adopted in this country.

On 22 December 2012  my client who I’ll refer to as  Zahi  was walking his dog in a park in London whilst having his lunch.

To his sudden surprise, Zahi  noticed a male proceeding towards him at a pace from across the park, waving his arms in an animated manner.

The male continued to approach Zahi and stopped in very close proximity to him.

The male asked Zahi what he was doing in the area.

Zahi stated that he was simply having a sandwich while his dog exercised a short distance away.  In response, the male replied, “Ok for that smart answer, I’m going to search you”.

At this time, Zahi  noticed that the male was carrying a Police badge in his hand and assumed that he was a Police Officer, albeit in plain clothes.  Indeed, we now know that the male was PC B.

Although PC B appeared to be holding a warrant card, but this was not produced or shown to Zahi  nor did PC B actually identify himself as a Police Officer, nor did he provide his name or  the station to which he was attached (details which he is required by law to give when carrying out a search).

Zahi said to PC B words to the effect of “What have I done to warrant being searched?”  PC B replied the words to the effect of “In my eyes you look suspicious” and “I believe that you’re concealing something”.  Zahi considered PC B’s justification to be unsatisfactory and Zahi was of the view that the proposed stop/search was actually motivated by reason of racial profiling.

PC B proceeded to request further assistance via his personal radio. Zahi queried with PC B as to whether it was genuinely necessary to request further assistance, as it appeared to him that such a response was wholly disproportionate.  Zahi  pointed out to PC B that at no point had he refused to be searched, but that he had merely requested reasons why he should be searched.  PC B asked Zahi whether he would consent to being searched, to which Zahi confirmed that he would, albeit that he had never refused in the first place.

PC B subsequently cancelled his request for assistance but instead requested that a patrol car pass by and check on him.  PC B proceeded to carry out a pat down search on Zahi.  The search proved negative.

Once the pat-down search had been completed, PC B took hold of Zahi by his arm and instructed Zahi that he would not be permitted to leave until colleagues had arrived.  Soon afterwards, two plain clothed individuals arrived at the scene, one male and one female.  Zahi now knows that these individuals to be PC S and PC T.

Upon arrival PC S and PC T, PC B advised Zahi that he would be taken away for a strip search.  Zahi  asked PC B why a strip search was necessary.  Zahi  attempted to explain his concerns to PC B that his dog was wandering about, without supervision.  PC B stated that his only concern was that of Zahi  himself.  As Zahi was attempting to converse with PC S, he was grabbed from behind by PC B in a chokehold manoeuvre, which immediately began to restrict his breathing.  As Zahi struggled for both breath and balance, he was aggressively forced to the ground, landing heavily on his chest, under the weight of PC B.  PC B maintained the chokehold, despite the obvious distress exhibited by Zahi.  As he did so, PC B taunted  Zahi with goading remarks including “Look at you now” and “You’re nothing”. Finally, in an effort to relieve the pressure by PC B, Zahi frantically tapped on the ground, indicating his ‘submission’. As a result, PC B slowly loosened his grip on Zahi only to ask rhetorically “Do you give up?”  Zahi made it clear that he was offering no resistance to PC B who went on to retort “You’re not such a tough guy after all!”

Neither PC S or PC T made an attempt to stop or restrain PC B but simply stood back and watched.

Whilst on the ground, PC B applied handcuffs to Zahi in the rear position before pulling Zahi onto his feet.  In the process, PC B caused Zahi additional pain to his shoulder.  Zahi believes that he was on the floor in a chokehold for approximately  90 seconds.

Once on his feet, PC B attempted to usher Zahi  towards some nearby bushes.  However, PC S finally intervened and stated to PC B that he had “gone too far” and escorted Zahi towards an unmarked Police vehicle and then to the nearest Police Station.

PC B and PC S took Zahi to a room where his handcuffs were removed and he  was strip searched during which he was obliged to squat, turn around and then bend over.  Zahi understandably felt extremely embarrassed, humiliated and degraded.  After, he was allowed to dress, he was issued with a Stop form and left the Police Station via the rear exit, after making it clear that he wanted to lodge a complaint about what had been done to him.

Within a few minutes of leaving the Police Station, Zahi received a telephone call from PS A who stated that she was responding to his complaint.

Following ‘investigation’, PS A prepared a Complaint Investigation Report, under cover of correspondence dated 15 April 2013.

Not content with the conclusion reached by PS A, Zahi submitted an appeal to the IPCC.  Following an appeal assessment, the IPCC upheld Zahi’s appeal and directed a reinvestigation.

In accordance with the IPCC decision, PS C was appointed to reinvestigate Zahi’s complaints.

On 19 June 2014, PS C dismissed the complaints made by Zahi  in their entirety.

On 14 July 2014, the IPCC upheld the appeal and directed a further investigation.

DI D was subsequently appointed to have conduct of the third complaint investigation.

DI D reported on 13 February 2015, partly upholding the complaint on a limited basis, this being that compulsory records for the authorisation of the strip search were absent and that PC B had failed to provide his details to Zahi.  Aside from the limited findings in favour of Zahi, DI D dismissed the majority of the complaint.

On 16 April 2015 the IPCC upheld, for the third time, a further appeal.  On this occasion, the IPCC determined that further investigation by the Metropolitan Police would be inappropriate and appointed themselves to carry out an independent investigation.

By a report dated 12 May 2017, the IPCC concluded that PC B had a case to answer for misconduct.

On the 19 January 2018, PC B appeared at a misconduct meeting at which all allegations of misconduct were dismissed.

You’ll appreciate that this stop and search and then strip search at the Police Station lasted no more than an hour or so and yet the complaint investigation lasted more than 5 years.  5 years!

Throughout, the Met and their Solicitors have argued that Zahi’s proposed civil claim for false imprisonment and assault/battery should be stayed, i.e. put on hold pending the outcome of the complaint process.

I have only recently been instructed.  The civil claim is now underway and in response the Met have denied liability maintaining that the stop and search and strip search at the Police Station were perfectly lawful.  Notwithstanding this, and no doubt conscious of realities, the Solicitors for the Met have in fact put forward an offer of settlement.

Had the Metropolitan Police adopted a proactive and conciliatory approach to this case shortly after it had occurred, I believe a prompt and proportionate outcome could have been achieved.  Instead, after the unrepentant attitude and pro- police bias displayed in the long sequence of complaint ‘investigations’ (or should we say ‘rejections’)  my client is left feeling more angry and resentful  towards the Police and determined to pursue his case through the Courts. As the example in Philadelphia shows us, it is quite possible for early and amicable settlement of a claim if Police authorities are willing to hold their hands up and say sorry, rather than spending massive amounts of time and financial resources on shielding one rogue officer from criticism; sadly, as many of my clients know from bitter experience, the latter approach is almost always the Metropolitan Police’s playbook in response to misconduct incidents.

And this is going to end up costing them a lot more than 2 dollars.

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.