Family of Oladeji Omishore dispute status of investigation of Chelsea Bridge death

Oladeji Omishore, known as Deji, died on 4 June 2022. The 41 year old fell into the River Thames following use of Taser by two Metropolitan Police Officers on Chelsea Bridge, whilst he was experiencing a mental health crisis.

His family have now given their first exclusive media interviews to The Guardian and Channel 4 News. They raise serious concerns about the systems for investigating police conduct and holding them to account.

The family are concerned that the officers involved in the incident on Chelsea Bridge are not yet being investigated for professional or criminal misconduct. The officers are being treated only as witnesses in the ongoing investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), not subjects of investigation. They remain on active duty.

Similar circumstances occurred in the investigation into the death Darren Cumberbatch in 2017, a Black man who died following excessive use of force by Warwickshire Police. Last month the IOPC announced they would be reinvestigating, five years on from the death, due to flaws in the initial investigation. This situation must not be repeated. 

There is currently no legal duty of candour which would require police officers to proactively cooperate in investigations into deaths. This contributes to a lack of accountability, particularly where officers involved are only treated as witnesses. INQUEST is part of the ongoing campaign for the Public Authorities (Accountability) Bill, known as Hillsborough Law, which would change that.

In a joint statement, the family said: “Like many people, we were shocked and deeply distressed by the video of Deji on Chelsea Bridge. He was clearly in mental health crisis. Yet instead of deescalating and offering compassion, the police officers shouted and used force against him. This seemed to only increase his fear and anguish. Now our beloved son, brother, and friend is gone.

It is incomprehensible to us that the officers seen in that video are not yet being investigated for any professional misconduct or criminal charges. This means they are essentially being treated as witnesses to the investigation, not subjects of it. They may not even be interviewed and their evidence might not be forcefully challenged until our lawyers get to cross examine the officers at the inquest. This is dysfunctional.

We understand that police are rarely suspended from duty following their involvement in contentious deaths in this country, and often do not even face conduct investigations. It is even rarer that they face criminal investigations. This does not look like a robust system capable of holding the police to account. 

Since his death we have learnt about many other deaths like Deji’s. Many have been linked to the use of Tasers since their introduction in 2003. Despite the risks associated with multiple or sustained activations, they continue to be rolled out. Taser usage is disproportionately targeted at Black, vulnerable people, like my brother, with mental ill health and people with underlying health issues. 

This is a real issue that needs to be addressed and raises deeper questions and concerns about the long history of systemic racism within the Metropolitan police. It serves as a painful reminder of how far we still need to go in terms of fostering an inclusive society, where race is not the trigger that leads to another Black person’s death or death of another human being, regardless of race.

We feel that the actions of the Metropolitan police officer amounted to excessive use of force, and for this the officer must be held accountable. We cannot bring our beloved Deji back, but we will fight to ensure that this never happens again to another human being, and we’ll continue to raise awareness and campaign for police accountability for a life tragically taken from us that can never be replaced.

Deji was so beloved. He was creative, funny, and caring. He loved music, singing, art, nature, and his local neighbourhood. He faced struggles with mental health but was working hard to improve his wellbeing. We have learned that our family now faces a long struggle for truth, justice, and accountability. We are committed to fighting for that, not only in Deji’s name but alongside all the other bereaved families like ours.”

Follow the family campaign @justicefordeji.

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST, said: “This is the death of a Black man in obvious distress who was subjected to multiple Taser use. Misinformation and false narratives have already been placed in the public domain by the Metropolitan Police to justify the force used. 

Bereaved families like Deji’s should not be forced to challenge the systems for responding to deaths, at a time when they are dealing with a profound loss in horrendous circumstances.

Deji’s death is part of a longstanding pattern of disproportionate use of force by police against Black men, particularly those in mental health crisis. It is in both the family and public interest that police officers are subject to robust investigation of the highest standard. They are public servants and must be held to account at an individual or corporate level when things go wrong, to protect the public from harm in the future.”

Kate Maynard of Hickman and Rose solicitors, who represent the family, said: The threshold to treat officers as subjects and declare a conduct investigation is low.  The IOPC only needed to consider there to be an indication that the officer may have committed a criminal offence or have behaved in a manner that would justify them facing disciplinary proceedings. 

The failure of these officers to diligently exercise their duties and responsibilities and the excessive use of force are obvious potential disciplinary infringements for investigation. The failure to interview the officers as subjects of investigation, and to properly test their evidence under a misconduct notice, risks becoming a material flaw in the investigation, as happened in the case of Darren Cumberbatch. 

Another example of where a decision was made at an early stage not to designate an officer as being the subject of a conduct investigation is the IOPC’s investigation of the police shooting of Sean Fitzgerald.  In that case it was two years before the IOPC then designated the police shooter as being the subject of a conduct investigation. 

It is not surprising that bereaved families lack confidence in IOPC decision making when it doesn’t feel forthright or vigorous.”

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