Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC - formerly IPCC)
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IPCC publishes findings from investigation into how GMP dealt with epileptic man
The Independent Police Complaints Commission has concluded its investigation into how Greater Manchester Police dealt with a man who had experienced an epileptic seizure.
Howard Swarray experienced the seizure while training at the Powerleague gym in Whalley Range, Manchester on 23 November 2009.
Mr Swarray submitted a complaint to GMP via his solicitor in March 2010 alleging the use of a Taser on him was inappropriate and officers used excessive force. This complaint resulted in the incident being referred to the IPCC in April 2010.
The IPCC conducted an independent investigation which has determined that, while some of the tactics adopted by the officers were questionable, no officer breached policies or procedures or committed misconduct.
However, the IPCC believes that there is sufficient public concern around incidents such as this for it to recommend to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) that a review be undertaken into tactics for dealing with people who are experiencing serious medical episodes.
The investigation determined that Mr Swarray went to the gym at around 8:30am. Mr Swarray told investigators that around 20 minutes later he began to feel light-headed, a sensation he associates with the onset of a seizure. He cannot recall anything of the incident after that.
IPCC investigators took witness accounts from gym staff, other gym users and paramedics, as well as viewing CCTV footage.
The CCTV footage showed Mr Swarray collapsing at around 9:11am. Gym staff and gym users went to his assistance and an ambulance was called.
A fast-response paramedic and an ambulance crew were on the scene within 15 minutes and began to check Mr Swarray for injury, evidence of an existing medical condition such as epilepsy or diabetes, or for the possibility that he had taken prescribed or illegal drugs.
While being assessed Mr Swarray got to his feet and began to move unsteadily around the gym. He climbed on to a reception desk and then it is evident a struggle ensued as paramedics, gym staff and gym users attempted to restrain him.
Witness accounts from those at the gym give evidence of a violent struggle in which an apparently disorientated Mr Swarray bit, punched and kicked the people who were trying to restrain and treat him.
All involved in the incident reported being concerned for their own safety and that of Mr Swarray. An ambulance technician requested urgent police assistance.
One officer who responded was specially trained in the deployment of Taser. This officer is recorded as saying in a radio transmission that "if he's getting aggressive I am sure 50,000 volts will stand him up”. The officer was told that authority to use Taser had not been given.
Another officer was first on the scene and unsuccessfully tried to put handcuffs on Mr Swarray.
Other officers, including the Taser-trained officer, arrived and after trying to reason with Mr Swarray, delivered strikes to his arms and legs to try to gain compliance.
However Mr Swarray continued to resist and lash out.
The Taser-trained officer decided the only way to stop Mr Swarray and allow the officers to put handcuffs on him was to discharge a Taser. The officer self-authorised the use of Taser which is allowed under GMP policy.
He discharged the Taser once and when this did not appear to have any effect he used it again, this time in drive stun mode. This second discharge allowed the officers time to put the handcuffs onto Mr Swarray.
Mr Swarray continued to act aggressively after being handcuffed and officers tried various methods to restrain him further including bending his toes back. Another officer stood on Mr Swarray's legs.
The paramedics remained concerned by Mr Swarray's behaviour and requested a doctor attend to sedate him to allow for safe transportation to hospital.
Mr Swarray was admitted to Manchester Royal Infirmary with kidney failure. He was diagnosed as having suffered an epileptic seizure and being in a post ictal stage when the paramedics and police officers were trying to deal with him. A post ictal stage is a period of recovery following a seizure during which a person can be drowsy and confused or aggressive and violent.
A consultant informed the IPCC that Mr Swarray's renal failure was caused as a result of rhabdomylosis, which is damage to the kidney tubules caused by muscle enzymes. The recognised causes for this condition include significant muscle activity due to physical exertion and muscle contraction as a consequence of an epileptic seizure.
The consultant stated in theory a Taser could cause muscle damage, but the most likely cause was physical exertion due to the seizure, gym activity or resisting physical restraint.
Three ambulance staff were treated in hospital for bruises and bite injuries caused by Mr Swarray while he was in his post ictal state.
IPCC Commissioner Ms Naseem Malik said: "It is evident from our investigation that the officers involved were responding to an incident in which a man appeared to be violently resisting attempts to deliver medical treatment. Subsequent medical evidence shows Mr Swarray had been in the recovery stage of an epileptic seizure and not in control of his actions. However, although the initial report had suggested Mr Swarray was having a seizure, at the point the officers arrived to provide assistance it is evident the exact cause of Mr Swarray's behaviour had not been fully established.
"The fact is all of the actions taken by the officers were within their training and did not breach force policies. There is nothing within either ACPO or GMP policies that prevents the use of Taser against a person who has suffered an epileptic seizure.
"With hindsight actions such as giving commands and attempting compliance through pain to a person who was already known to be unresponsive were questionable. However the officers were considering options within their training and the officer who discharged the Taser believed he had no other option.
"The language used by the officer en route to the incident was inappropriate and suggested a certain mindset. However it is evident he then considered tactical options before deciding to use the Taser.
"However, while our investigation has found individual officers have acted correctly, the overriding concern remains that a medical condition exists that can prompt an individual to be in a totally disorientated state which can result in them being incredibly violent, yet the only option open to police officers in dealing with such an individual at present appears to be to deliver controlled violence.
"While I recognise that police need to protect the public and themselves against violent individuals, my concern is whether there is an alternative to the use of a Taser to deal with people whose violence arises from a medical condition such as epilepsy. For this reason the IPCC is writing to ACPO to suggest that, in conjunction with relevant charities or healthcare providers, they consider whether other, potentially less violent tactics could be used in these types of situations to ensure people suffering medical emergencies receive the right care and that frontline police officers have the relevant knowledge to assist them.”
Ian Christon, IPCC Regional Communications Officer (North Region)
Tel 0161 2468582