Death of a mentally ill black man following altercation with police
Updates on this case listed at the foot of this item
34-year-old Adrian McDonald died on 22 December 2014 following a 999 call. He was shot by a police taser and bitten twice by a police dog at a block of flats in Audley Road, Chesterton, in Newcastle-under-Lyme, where a birthday party was taking place. Adrian died in the back of a police van after being detained by the officers, Inspector Richard Bills and Sergeant Jason Bromley.
It was reported that Adrian was pleading for water and complaining he could not breathe before suffering a cardiac arrest and dying in a van. A medical expert had ruled that Adrian would still have died even if he had received medical assistance from the officers.
It was reported that Adrian, an engineer, who had been living in Stoke-on-Trent, had been drinking alcohol and taking significant amounts of cocaine at a party inside the Audley Road flat in the early hours of 22 December. It was alleged that his behaviour became a concern to others in the flat who called 999 and gave false information that an unknown black man had gained entry and barricaded himself inside a room. The information was later found to be false but officers arrived and, despite them asking the occupiers, the information was never corrected.
The two arresting officers were initially found guilty of misconduct and handed 12-month written warnings for ‘showing a lack of diligence’ in failing to send Adrian for a medical assessment. But they launched an appeal against the ruling and were cleared on appeal in 2018 by an independent tribunal hearing which found they acted with ‘total professionalism’. The decision came more than three years after Adrian’s death.
The family fought for an inquest for several years. Adrian’s family said; “It’s been four years since we lost Adrian, that’s four years since we last heard him laugh, smile, and four years since his children last got to give him a hug.
An inquest in November 2018 found that Adrian was killed by cocaine toxicity and the stress of the incident. Although at the time of the incident Adrian told police that he had taken drugs and was having difficulty breathing, the officers only asked him to “calm down”, the jury heard. The inquest was also told that he had shouted “I can’t breathe” from the back of the police van minutes before he lost consciousness.
Prior to the inquest police had released a six-minute bodycam clip which shows officers entering the flat in Chesterton where Adrian had allegedly barricaded himself in a room. The actual shooting and police dog bites had not been released at the time, but the aftermath with Adrian in a distressed state on the floor can be seen in the footage. He is repeatedly told to ‘calm down’ as his breathing becomes laboured. It ends with him being placed in the back of a police van – and just a short time later he was dead.
The jury concluded: “Due to the information given, we believe the police acted with the acceptable use of force. However, due to the deceased’s cocaine-induced paranoia, the level of force may have increased his stress levels which may have contributed to his death.”
Adrian’s brother, Wayne said that he was disappointed with the conclusion, given all that his brother had went through. He went on to say; “My brother suffered horrific injuries that night. He was tasered whilst a dog bit him repeatedly, and although he asked for help nobody thought he needed medical assistance. Adrian didn’t kill himself that night.
“We are devastated as a family that after nearly four years of searching for the truth we are left with this jury’s conclusion. They could not decide whether or not the police played any part in Adrian’s death. They’ve just said the police may have contributed to his death.
“Adrian loved his family and it pains us to watch his children growing knowing that he is missing out on all of their milestones. Adrian had so much to live for and it feels so unfair that he isn’t here with us today.”
A spokesman for the charity INQUEST, that supported the family, said; “His family and friends say he is deeply missed by all of them, but most of all by his two young children. They said his death has left a gap in the family that can never be filled.
“Almost four years on, Adrian’s family believe the length of time the inquest has taken to reach a hearing is disproportionate and upsetting. This delay is due to the time taken by the then Independent Police Complaints Commission to investigate the matter and report.”
Following nationwide demonstrations across Britain following the death of George Floyd in the United States, Adrian’s brother Wayne, commented how it is a ‘shame’ that it took the death of an American to spark anti-racism protests in the UK.
He said; ‘It’s a really tricky subject to talk about because some people don’t want to believe this is happening here in the UK. It’s almost easier to believe that each of these victims somehow deserved what happened rather than believe the police are capable of doing this and getting away with it.”
Dr David Baker, an expert on police brutality, told Metro News that he does not believe the protests will change police behaviour in the UK, suggesting Brits are ‘fooling ourselves’ to say it is not a ‘major issue’ here. He said: “The Americans do actually convict some police officers – not many, but at least it happens. Compare that to here where the last time it happened was 50 years ago. We hold our police up as being somehow better because it fits with the national myth we have of ourselves.”