Inquest begins into death of Hong Kong taxi driver who was put in headlock by police

Hong Kong’s Coroner’s Court has began examining whether police used reasonable force in putting a 65-year-old taxi driver in a headlock during his arrest a month before he died of complications from a neck injury.

Security footage played in court showed Chan Fai-wong was lifted from the ground into a police van on November 11, 2012 with a plain-clothes officer’s arm around his neck, while another uniformed officer carried both of his legs.

The driver reported experiencing neck pain and fatigue a day after he was sent to hospital, and died on December 12, 2012.

An autopsy found his underlying heart disease impaired his cardiopulmonary function, which together with his neck injury that left him bedridden, caused him to contract bronchitis that eventually killed him.

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On the first of a 10-day inquest that began on Tuesday, Chan’s eldest daughter, Chan Ying-hong, questioned how he could have been so injured while her mother cried and retired from court after watching the video.

Coroner Ada Yim Shun-yee said the five jurors will have to consider whether police had applied reasonable force during the arrest and determine what had caused Chan’s neck injury.

They will also have to think about why the neck injury was only discovered the day after, and if that was Chan’s cause of death, she said.

Senior public prosecutor Derek Wong Chun-hin said in opening his case that it was an orthopedic’s expert opinion that Chan’s injury was caused during his struggle with the police while he was carried into the van.

The court heard Chan had been arrested minutes earlier after he was accused of assaulting a Japanese passenger during a dispute over taxi fares outside a toll station at the Kowloon side of the West Harbour Tunnel.

Closed-circuit television footage seized from the station showed the Japanese man got out of the car and tapped the bonnet, before Chan chased after him. The two men fell to the ground after a tunnel staff member tried to separate them but failed.

A toll station staff member recalled hearing a “boom” when the three men fell to the ground, and saw that Chan’s fingers were bleeding when he returned to his car.

Police constable Ma Chun-hong said he arrested Chan for assault after the Japanese passenger complained the driver had hit him in the head and put an arm around his neck.

The officer testified that Chan resisted the arrest and refused to board the police van after he was handcuffed.

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But he claimed that Chan did not complain about any pain when he agreed to an officer’s suggestion to be sent to Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

An MRI scan revealed that Chan’s cervical vertebrae had been dislocated.

Chan’s daughter recalled that he had complained about being assaulted by police when officers finally notified the family two days after he was admitted to hospital.

She testified to visiting multiple police officers demanding an investigation into her father’s complaint, but was told that they would not look into the matter.

Instead, an officer accompanied her to visit Chan and informed them that police had closed case on the complaint lodged by his Japanese passenger.

The inquest continues.

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