berthahenson

Archive for July, 2013|Monthly archive page

Just how did Dinesh die? (Part 2)

In News Reports on July 26, 2013 at 3:00 am

The latest post on Dinesh

 

Something’s not right. We’re not talking about Leslie Chew’s run-in with the courts over his cartoons. It’s for him to argue that he was not scandalising the judiciary with his cartoons, which implied among other things that the courts favoured foreigners and the rich over members of the hoi polloi.

We’re talking about the death of the prison inmate of “positional asphyxiation”. Sorry to belabour the point but too many questions remain despite the Attorney-General’s Chamber “clarification” on why there was no coroner’s inquiry into the death.

The only newspaper which reported this was TNP two days ago. A coroner’s hearing was held, the family of the inmate turned up – and the hearing was discontinued. ST played catch-up today by publishing the AGC’s clarification. TNP also carried its response.

To recap, it had seemed odd that a criminal case was held before a coroner’s inquiry into the death of Dinesh Raman Chinniah, 21. Out of eight prison officers who were involved in subduing the lanky youth who had kicked a warden, the most senior was taken to task for neglecting to supervise the incident adequately. He was fined $10,000. There was also a committee of inquiry held by the Home Affairs ministry. It took place before the court case and its results are not made public.

TNP reported a lawyer saying it was “uncommon” for the court case to come before the coroner’s findings. To a layman too, it would make perfect sense for the coroner to rule on whether the death was un-natural or not and then the case passed on to the justice system to see if someone was responsible.

But the AGC said it was “not uncommon” for inquiries to be adjourned or discontinued, where the AGC commences criminal prosecution in respect of the death caused.

Now, the Coroners Act appears to have two limbs: The Coroner is required to hold an inquiry into any death that occurs while in official custody – for instance, where an inmate dies in prison. The inquiry will look at the cause of and circumstances connected with the death, including how he died.

But if someone is charged with somehow causing the death, the Coroner “shall await” the conclusion of such criminal proceedings. It is up to the Coroner to decide to carry on or discontinue the inquiry. For good measure, the AGC said that it has no power to compel the Coroner to have or halt the inquiry.

“Where a finding has been made in criminal proceedings as to the cause of and the circumstances connected with the death, the Coroner has a discretion to discontinue the proceedings before him if he determines that there is no longer a need for an inquiry to take place to determine the cause of and circumstances connected with the death,” the statement added.

In Dinesh’s case, the Coroner said “no need” and the family and its lawyer did not appear to have raised any objections. Perhaps, they too were satisfied that the criminal case answered all their queries – so why should anyone else bother?

We should, because this is the case of a young (and, yes, even violent) man who died in a public institution. The machinery of the G went into overdrive when the case was concluded to reassure the public that was all done according to the book. So it seems the prison officer was merely “careless”.

What if the coroner’s inquiry had been held first? Then there would have been a step-by-step reconstruction of events, an expert forensics report on the state of the body (got bruises or not?) and leeway given to the family to ask questions that still nagged them. The coroner would say he died of un-natural causes perhaps and the ball thrown into the criminal court to see who was at fault.

Makes perfect sense.

If this was an out-and-out case of murder, there really would be no need for a coroner’s inquiry. No one would be clamouring for an inquiry into the deaths of the father and son in the Kovan killings, for example. But the circumstances surrounding Dinesh’s death is considerably more opaque. It occurred within the confines of an institution which is in the charge of trained men.

The G has “clarified’’ why there was no inquiry by referring to legislation. But surely the public deserves to have more, rather than less, light shed on this? It’s too late for the Coroner to overturn his decision, but there is always still that intriguing COI report that has not been made public.

 

Just how did Dinesh die (Part 1.5)

In News Reports on July 26, 2013 at 2:58 am

On Dinesh…part of a longer post

 

The New Paper reported today that there would be no coroner’s inquiry. The case has been handled by the criminal courts and the prison supervisor has been fined $10,000. Still it is puzzling that there was no coroner’s inquiry in the first place. The coroner is supposed to get to the when, why and how the death happened. The coroner cannot assign blame, but he could suggest that more investigations of a criminal nature could be undertaken. In this case, there was a committee of inquiry into the death convened by the Home Affairs ministry, then the court case, and the subsequent coroner inquiry yesterday that the Attorney-General’s Office said was “discontinued’’ since criminal proceedings are over.

Which would have been all right if the court case was clear about exactly how or even when the inmate died. Did he have any bruises on him? Was he or was he not handcuffed? Was he already dead before he was subdued and put into solitary confinement?

The COI has led to a list of recommendations to “better educate officers on the risk of positional asphyxia in inmates and review officers’ training methods”. Here’s another question: How did the officers (there were eight involved) go uneducated about this for 22 years since the restraint techniques were introduced in 1991? Should the Prisons Department therefore shoulder some responsibility in Dinesh’s death as well?

Again, could more information be given? What about a look at that COI report?

Just how did Dinesh die? Part 1

In News Reports on July 26, 2013 at 2:57 am

 

I wrote about Dinesh three times in www.breakfastnetwork.sg (Thought I’d share here too)

 

You don’t get to hear much about what goes on inside our prison walls, unless there’s a death. And so it is with the death of inmate Dinesh Raman, 21, from “positional asphyxiation’’.

Now we know that there were 61 cases of assault in prison last year, 21 of which involved attacks on officers.

The G agencies bent over backwards to assure people that everything was done according to the book. After the court told a prison deputy superintendent to pay a $10,000 fine for what had happened, there were statements from Home Affairs ministry and the Singapore Prison Service.

Seems the whole machinery was geared up to respond quickly to any concern that Lim Kwo Jin had got off too lightly for not adequately supervising the process by which Dinesh was restrained in September 2010 and which led to his death.

The media too stressed that Dinesh had to be subdued after he made an unprovoked attack on a prison officer and seemed to be in a frenzy. The Prisons statement helpfully told of how a person will be restrained – a team of four or five officers deploying wrist and arm locks with someone supervising. No batons. No handcuffs either, according to ST, although Zaobao said it was “understood’’ that handcuffs were used.

In Dinesh’s case, he struggled so hard that tired officers trying to subdue him had to be replaced. In total, eight officers, including Lim, were involved. Pepper spray was also used. ST headlined this as “Fierce struggle lasted about 30 minutes’’.

The Prisons statement said the techniques introduced in 1991 and adapted from the United Kingdom have been used “hundreds of times and there had been no death or injury of any significance caused’’.

Combing through the media reports on the case, what happened was this: He was put in an isolation cell, chest/belly down and his face turned to one side.

From there, however, the reports do not quite tally.

According to TODAY: “Lim taps Dinesh Raman’s face and his eyes are still open. Lim then turns on a tap in the cell to fill a pail with water to de-contaminate the prisoner, who had had pepper spray applied to his face during the restraint operation. Officers leave Dinesh Raman, unresponsive and in a prone position, in the cell.’’

According to ST: “In the cell, officers placed Dinesh in a prone position and washed away the pepper spray that one of them had used to help subdue the inmate. They then left, closing the cell’s steel door behind them.’’

Everything gets more muddled when compared with what Zaobao reported. While the English-language papers said Lim returned to check on the inmate after a “minute or two’’, “minutes’’ or “shortly after” Dinesh was put in the cell, Zaobao said he took 30 minutes.

It also reported Lim’s lawyer as saying that the officer was unable to pay attention to Dinesh’s condition because “according to protocol, he went to get water to clean Dinesh’’. Makes you wonder if all the reporters were in the same courtroom!

Muddled reporting aside, the picture emerges that Dinesh was already unresponsive (does this mean unconscious?) with eyes opened (!) even after he had pepper spray washed away from his face/eyes. How come? Was he knocked out so hard somehow that he didn’t even roll over when he found he couldn’t breathe?

Or did he already “positionally asphyxiate’’ when the officers were struggling to restrain him by, for example, pushing him to the ground and weighing on him?

A committee of inquiry was convened and a report sent up to the Home Affairs ministry. Doubtless, the committee and the court have got to the root of the matter. What’s needed is a clear report on how exactly Dinesh died, leaving no room for pesky questions like the ones above.

This matters a lot more than exhortations that everything was done by the book by dedicated officers performing their jobs in a dangerous place.