Forensic analysis that found a young black man who died following contact with the Metropolitan police had not swallowed any drugs has heightened concerns about the circumstances leading to his death.
In a statement released on Wednesday evening after a private meeting with the family of 20-year-old Rashan Charles, the Independent Police Complaints Commission confirmed that contrary to earlier reports, an object removed from Charles' throat was not a controlled substance.
The police watchdog has given no further information about what the object was, but the announcement has dampened some of the online criticism that suggested Charles had contributed to his own death by swallowing drugs.
The misinformation had echoes of when the IPCC were forced to apologise in 2011 for sending out a statement that wrongly claimed Mark Duggan – the man whose death sparked the London riots – had fired at police.
Stafford Scott, a race advocacy officer at civil rights charity the Monitoring Group, told BuzzFeed News the development "raises a whole heap of questions", adding: "But the key question now is, what are the IPCC is going to do next?"
Scott welcomed the IPCC's clarification on the matter, and said he believed the officer and the member of the public who detained Charles should be treated as suspects and not witnesses.not witnesses.
"The fact the IPCC put out that information yesterday might show some learning from prior experiences when they withheld critical information from the public gaze," he said.
"Because as far as we are concerned as a community – and I am not speaking on behalf of the family but the wider community – those two people should be treated as suspects in the murder and killing of Rashan but currently they are treated as witnesses and we find that aberrant."
Charles, a 20-year-old father of one, became unwell on July 22 after being followed into an east London shop by a police officer and a member of the public. He died later in hospital.
CCTV footage that apparently showed Charles putting something in his mouth caused outrage among those concerned by the use of force when the video was uploaded and shared on the internet. The following day, the IPCC launched an investigation into his death.
The footage shows Charles being forced to the ground and then pinned down by one officer and a member of the public, who sits on Charles' back.
Labour's shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who represents Hackney North and Stoke Newington, told BuzzFeed News: "It has now been revealed that the object removed from the throat of Rashan Charles, who died after a police chase in Hackney last week, did not contain a controlled substance e.g. illegal drugs."
Referring to protests last week that were condemned by Charles' family, Abbott said: “Last Friday's violent demonstrations were wrong. I join with Rashan's family in calling for peace on the streets. But the entire community wants to know how a healthy young man like Rashan died."were condemned by Charles' family, Abbott said: “Last Friday's violent demonstrations were wrong. I join with Rashan's family in calling for peace on the streets. But the entire community wants to know how a healthy young man like Rashan died."
She added: “The IPCC's update, coupled with the release of a Metropolitan police report highlighting a disproportionate use of force against BME people, will no doubt cause deep concern and upset."
Scott said he was concerned about the reaction Charles’ death received before the IPCC clarified that the object removed from Charles’ throat was not drugs: “People attempted to reduce the lives of young black people to somehow being less than human beings.”
The activist, who is a longtime supporter of the family of Mark Duggan, said the footage of Charles being detained was important in determining public opinion about the matter but that he had little faith in the IPCC.
"This video [the video of Charles] is in the public domain," he said. "The IPCC and the police need to understand people have made up their own mind on what they have seen – the video has not been edited or tampered with."
Scott continued: "I personally have no faith in the IPCC based on prior experience – historical and recent experience..."
Scott said he will be attending a vigil for Mark Duggan on Friday 4 August.
"It's unfortunate we have to do these things but people have lost love ones and it's important we remain visible," he said. "The state is responsible for that loss. We are not going to disappear but at the same time [people] shouldn't take it to the streets..."
On Wednesday evening the commissioner overseeing the Charles investigation, Cindy Butts confirmed that the package in his throat is a mixture of paracetamol and caffeine wrapped in plastic.
"However, given the inflammatory nature of some ongoing speculation I will confirm that the package consisted of a mixture of paracetamol and caffeine wrapped in plastic. At this stage we have not been provided with a confirmed cause of death for Rashan and our investigation is ongoing," she said.
On Friday morning, the family of Rashan Charles said their primary focus was not on the contents of the package, but the conduct of those involved in the events that led to his death.
They said in a statement: "We are aware too of the results on the forensic analysis conducted on the package recovered at the scene.
"Whilst this is important, we wish to make clear that the content of the package must not detract from our primary concern, which is to investigate the conduct of those involved in the incident that led to Rashan’s death."
Victoria Sanusi is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Victoria Sanusi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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