A WITNESS to an alleged assault by two plain clothed police officers on a handcuffed teenager has criticised the ‘flimsy effort’ and lack of ‘diligence’ by the police Professional Standards Unit after it dismissed and ignored her and the victim’s complaints.
Anna Larkin was at her kitchen window filling up a hot water bottle shortly after midnight on November 1 last year when she says she witnessed two plain clothed officers assault Agnelito Da Costa, 18, as he and a friend made their way home in full face paint after celebrating Halloween at an East London pub.
Larkin, a communications officer for a prestigious art institution in Angel, North London, said she was horrified as she watched one of the officers push handcuffed Da Costa’s face into the bonnet of a car and hold it there while a colleague kicked his legs away so he fell to his knees, kicked his legs apart, kicked him hard between the legs and stamped on his ankles.
However, Da Costa and his friend, Matthieu Dufour, who works as a graphic designer in Shoreditch, were quickly released after Larkin’s camera began flashing as she took pictures of the scene on the corner of Mare Street and Westgate Street in Hackney moments after the alleged attack.
While Larkin’s account corroborates with that of Da Costa’s and Dufour’s, who were all interviewed separately, Hackney’s Police Professional Standards Unit (PSU) did not acknowledge or deny her account, but admitted force was used saying it was justified in the interests of officer safety after the teenager became aggressive.
In his response to Larkin’s complaint, PSU investigator Mark Simkins, who also works as a Special (volunteer officer), wrote: ‘[the officers] fully justify their use of force against the subject involved. … One male was fully compliant and the other was not. Whilst we do not expect every member of the public to bend over backwards for us we do not expect acts [of] aggression from the very outset. The two original officers who stopped the male in question were faced with just that.’
Da Costa admits he was verbally aggressive, but only after the police nearly ran him over and put him in cuffs. He said an unmarked car had driven past with the occupants looking at them as he and Dufour walked along Mare Street towards Hackney Town Hall when moments later it pulled up in front of them.
Two officers jumped out and handcuffed his friend. As he crossed the road an unmarked car drove at him almost knocking him over, he said. “I thought I was going to be run over. [The driver] came out of the car and I went up to him and said what are you doing … and he went straight to the conversation asking me what are you doing here, where are you heading? ”
Before he answered, Da Costa said he was handcuffed and threatened with arrest unless he gave his name and address. He continued: “I said I’m not going to give it to you and I was screaming at the officers because I was really angry because I was literally just handcuffed for no reason, but after a few minutes I decided to give them my name because I didn’t want to be arrested.” Da Costa said he then questioned why he had been stopped and cuffed when the assault occurred.
Simkins pointed out to Larkin that she had not seen Da Costa’s ‘aggressive’ behaviour and was unaware of the potential risk the officers were facing.
He wrote: ‘Having spoken with you and having seen the photographs it is apparent to me that you have not witnessed the entire incident from the start. [The officers] state that [Da Costa and Dafour] were stopped in relation to a serious incident which had just occurred in Mare Street. In the commission of similar serious incidents it is not uncommon for the subject to be armed with a bladed article and or offensive weapon.
“Officer safety is paramount and during any such stop implemented by police the officers must complete a risk assessment, this is what has occurred and has allowed for the male must [sic] be detained safely. Therefore the force used by the officers was not excessive and thus I do not uphold this part of your complaint.’
Larkin admitted she did not see the point at which the pair were stopped and cuffed or Da Costa remonstrating with the officers, but said the arts student was handcuffed at the time of the ‘assault’ so posed no threat.
In a letter to Simkins complaining of the ‘flimsy’ investigation, Larkin wrote: ‘Whether or not the young man was initially fully compliant, the incident I witnessed occurred when he was fully incapacitated. … I find it incredible that you believe the subsequent kicking and stamping was a reasonable and necessary course of action following the officers’ risk assessment. What possible risk could the young man pose on his knees, handcuffed from behind and his face being held down on the bonnet of the car?’
Larkin and Da Costa also complained of the officers laughing at him when he asked for their identification numbers, which they are obliged to give during a stop, after being released.
Da Costa, who also sings in a band with Dufour, said: “They were just messing around literally just laughing saying I’m not going to give you my number. I asked them a few times. … One of the officers decided to make a joke. … They were just saying random long numbers … and every officer was just laughing.”
In response to Larkin’s complaint over the alleged mockery, Simkins wrote: ‘All four officers refute this act of unprofessionalism. … None agree that they laughed at the subject. However it is worthy of note that both males who were stopped were dressed in Halloween type costume and therefore, maybe, this was the reason for any laughter heard? In investigating this complaint I have found no independent or corroborative evidence to support your allegation or any substantive evidence of misconduct by any officer I therefore find that this part of your complaint is not upheld.’
However, Larkin said she found Simkins’ response contradictory. She wrote: ‘You say that the officers deny laughing at the young men. You then contradict yourself by suggesting the laughing I heard was because the young men were “dressed in Halloween type costume”. You are either claiming I did, or did not, hear laughter, which is it?’
She also questioned Simkins’ suggestion that there was a lack of ‘independent or corroborative evidence’ as she was an independent witness herself. She wrote: ‘You twice mentioned on the telephone that Agnelito Da Costa had made his own complaint and that mine would be paired with his to form one investigation. In this instance I believe I am the independent witness to Mr Da Costa’s complaint and it is not a case of other independent or corroborative evidence being required.’
In fact Da Costa complained to Chief Inspector Billy Bowen-Long at a meeting in Hackney on stop and search and improving relations between young people and the police on December 13 last year in the company of Lucy Ferguson, who runs creative youth organisation YH World. Bowen-Long reportedly said he took the complaint very seriously and would look into it.
The following day Simkins, based out of Stoke Newington police station, in Hackney, telephoned Larkin to take her complaint more than three weeks after she had filed it online. However, two-weeks after the meeting between Da Costa and Bowen-Long, Simkins said Bowen-Long, his boss, had not mentioned Da Costa’s complaint and that he would speak to him.
The letter from Simkins to Larkin detailing the findings of his investigation clearly show that Da Costa’s complaint has not been considered.
The accusations come at a time when the Metropolitan Police have come under increasing criticism for failing to properly investigate allegations of misconduct by its officers and weeks after former Hackney Police Constable John Caulfield was sacked for assaulting a member of the public.
Despite dismissing Larkin’s complaints Simkins apologised for whatever she witnessed. He wrote: ‘I take this opportunity to apologise to you on behalf of Hackney Police for witnessing something that you consider worthy of complaint. Public perception is a part of policing that we do not always get right.’
During a recent web-chat with readers of the Hackney Citizen and Hackney Gazette websites, Matt Horne, Hackney’s new borough commander, said: “Officers must comply with the law when they conduct stop and search and are rightly held accountable to the courts (and to me) for the way they conduct it. We have an adult monitoring group and also a youth scrutiny panel where young people (many who have been searched) hold us to account. More and more searches result in an arrest than ever before (over 1 in 5 now) and those searched the most are often involved in gang activity.”