Met officer failed to properly search or monitor man who died in custody after choking on drugs
An Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation into the death of a man who choked on a package of drugs in police custody, found an officer failed to adequately search or monitor him.
An inquest, which concluded yesterday (18 January) at East London Coroners’ Court, determined that Andrzej Kusper, aged 38, died as a result of foreign body airway obstruction.
Mr Kusper became unresponsive and died at around 8pm on 4 September 2021 at Leyton Custody Centre, east London.
We began our investigation after we were notified by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) that evening.
We established that at approximately 5.40pm on 4 September, two MPS officers were conducting proactive patrols in plain clothes on Leasowes Road, Leyton. They stopped Mr Kusper and one of the officers searched him on suspicion of drug possession. He was handcuffed to the front and the officer found a small package containing a white substance and subsequently arrested him on suspicion of possessing a class A drug.
When putting Mr Kusper into the back of a police van an officer noticed Mr Kusper putting his hand in his pocket. The officer then searched Mr Kusper inside the police van but didn’t find anything. The officer did not notice Mr Kusper putting his hand to his mouth during this search. After the van doors were closed, the van CCTV footage showed that a bulge appeared in Mr Kusper’s cheek.
The officer didn’t see this during the journey to Leyton Custody Centre.
After arriving at the custody centre, officers noticed that Mr Kusper had something in his mouth and asked him to open it. When the officers saw something, they instructed him to spit it out. Officers took Mr Kusper down to the floor where he became unresponsive and the London Ambulance Service was called, while officers provided CPR.
Mr Kusper was pronounced dead at the custody suite shortly after 8pm.
An inquest jury found that failings in both police searches of Mr Kusper probably caused or contributed to his death. They described both searches as “incomplete and unsatisfactory.” They also found that the police monitoring of Mr Kusper on his way to the custody suite in the police van probably caused or contributed to his death and said there was a “missed opportunity” to see the package in Mr Kusper’s mouth. They concluded that there were failings in the actions of officers in the custody suite, namely a lack of leadership and poor communication, and that this possibly caused or contributed to his death.
The inquest jury also found that Mr Kusper’s own actions contributed to his death, by failing to mention the package during the search, putting the item in his mouth in the van and keeping it hidden in his mouth at the custody suite.
Our investigation looked at the police interaction with Mr Kusper prior to his death including his search and arrest, the actions of officers and custody staff during and after his transport to custody and whether their actions were in line with local and national policies.
A post-mortem report identified that he died due to an obstruction in his airway. A large amount of blue plastic material, which contained packages of cocaine and a by-product of heroin, was found in Mr Kusper’s windpipe.
At the conclusion of our investigation in November 2022, we decided that the officer who searched Mr Kusper inside the custody van should face a misconduct meeting for breaching the police standards of professional behaviour of duties and responsibilities. This related to their failure to adequately search Mr Kusper following his arrest and for failing to properly monitor him during his transport to custody. A misconduct meeting which was held by the force, decided that there would not be a disciplinary outcome for the officer but instead they would go through the reflective practice review process (RPRP) to consider opportunities for learning.
We also found that two officers based in the MPS’ Directorate of Professional Standards should go through the same process for their mishandling of exhibits. One officer stored a water bottle in the same bag as Mr Kusper’s phones, which leaked and damaged the phones. The other officer incorrectly stored biological samples following the post-mortem examination which affected the ability to analyse them.
IOPC Regional Director Charmaine Arbouin said: “Our thoughts are with Andrzej Kusper’s family, loved ones, and everyone affected by his death.
“We conducted a detailed investigation, independent of the police, in order to establish the circumstances of this tragic incident.
“While it’s clear Mr Kusper placed the item in his mouth which he subsequently choked on, it was our view that the officer’s lack of attention in searching and monitoring Mr Kusper on the way to custody meant the item was not seen before he put it in his mouth.
“This incident shows the importance of carrying out thorough searches of detainees being taken to custody and actively monitoring those being transported to custody.”
As part of our investigation, we reviewed police body worn footage as well as CCTV footage from the police van and custody suite. We obtained and reviewed statements from the police officers involved and reviewed relevant police policies, training and guidance.