An officer involved in Sheku Bayoh’s arrest has admitted that police fired CS spray and pepper spray at him without warning even though he made no direct threat and did not show any weapons.
Bayoh, a father of two, died in hospital in handcuffs in May 2015 in Kirkcaldy, Fife. He had multiple injuries after being hit with police batons, and being shackled and held on the ground by numerous officers.
PC Craig Walker told a public inquiry into Bayoh’s death in custody that he and former PC Alan Paton believed that Bayoh might have been carrying a knife and had been threatening the public.
Walker and Paton were the first officers to confront Bayoh, formerly from Sierra Leone, after police received repeated calls from the public about a man brandishing a knife on the streets, behaving erratically and hitting a vehicle at about 7am on a Sunday.
Bayoh’s family believe he died from positional asphyxia because of the tactics used by police, who they allege over-reacted and were motivated by racial bias. The public inquiry under Lord Bracadale, a senior judge, was set up after their long campaign for an independent investigation into his death.
Walker, the first officer involved in Bayoh’s arrest to appear at the inquiry, was questioned by Angela Grahame QC, counsel to the inquiry, about the seconds after he and Paton arrived at the scene.
The inquiry heard that Paton, who has yet to give evidence, told Bayoh to “get down on the fucking ground” and, without warning him, sprayed CS gas towards Bayoh’s face.
“So when the spray was used at that point, [Bayoh] is not acting aggressively, there’s no sign of a knife, he is not attacking PC Paton,” Grahame said to Walker. “He’s walking [en] effectively he’s just simply ignoring the comment from PC Paton. Is that right?”
Walker confirmed there was no knife visible on Bayoh, but answered: “He’s not following instructions; he’s not complying.”
Walker, who earlier denied any racial motivation in his decision-making, said both officers believed Bayoh could have had a knife concealed under his white T-shirt, either stuffed into a pocket or under his waistband, and that had he run off, he could have posed a threat to the public.
Walker said Paton’s CS spray failed to hit Bayoh and instead was blown back into Paton’s eyes and face. Walker then shouted at Bayoh, who turned around to face Walker and then walked in his direction, hy het gesê.
Walker shouted for Bayoh to stop and, without warning him, used his pepper spray. Bayoh seemed to be unaffected but some hit Walker in the eyes, immediately affecting his vision.
Under questioning from Grahame, Walker confirmed that neither he nor Paton asked Bayoh whether he was unwell or whether he was carrying a knife, nor did they retreat to allow Bayoh time to respond.
Walker admitted that Bayoh was walking along the road “in a calm-ish manner” but had been non-responsive, and had a “thousand-yard stare”. He told Grahame: “We weren’t taking any chances.”
The inquiry will continue on Friday.