Leyton News

Police officer failed man who choked to death in custody

Andrzej Kusper died on 4th September 2021, just hours after he was arrested by police in Leyton on suspicion of drug possession

Credit: gynane via Canva

A police officer failed to adequately search and monitor a man who choked to death on a drugs package while in custody, the independent police watchdog has found.

Andrzej Kusper, 38, died on 4th September 2021 at Leyton Custody Centre, a few hours after he had been arrested by two plain-clothed police officers on Leashowes Road, E10.

The investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) established that Andrzej died as a result of foreign body airway obstruction.

On 4th September, at around 5.40pm, Andrzej was stopped and searched on grounds of drug possession suspicion. He was handcuffed to the front before an officer found a small package containing a white substance. He was then arrested on suspicion of possessing a class A drug.

The IOPC investigation found that one of the officers noticed that Andrzej put his hand in his pocket as he was moved into the back of a police van. The officer subsequently searched him inside the van but did not find anything. During this second search the officer did not spot Andrzej put his hand to his mouth, though the CCTV footage inside the van later showed that a bulge had appeared in his cheek sometime after the van doors were shut.

Upon arrival at the custody centre, officers noticed that Andrzej had something in his mouth and they asked him to open it. He was then instructed by the officers to spit the object out, before he was taken to the floor. At this point he became unresponsive and officers provided CPR while an ambulance was called.

He was pronounced dead at the Leyton custody centre shortly after 8pm. In a post-mortem examination, a large amount of blue plastic material, which contained packages of cocaine and a by-product of heroin, was found in Andrzej’s windpipe.

A jury at the East London Coroners Court this week found that “incomplete and unsatisfactory” police searches of Andrzej probably caused or contributed to his death.

The jury additionally found that that there was a “missed opportunity” to see the package in Andrzej’s mouth police monitoring of Andrzej while he was in the police van.

Andrzej’s own actions were also found to have contributed to his death. Jurors noted he failed to mention the package during the search, putting the item in his mouth in the van and keeping it hidden in his mouth when in custody.

At the conclusion of its investigation, the IOPC decided that the officer who searched Andrzej inside the police van should face a misconduct hearing.

The Metropolitan Police subsequently held a hearing where it was decided that there would not be a disciplinary outcome but that they would instead go through the reflective practice review process for learning purposes.

IOPC regional director Charmaine Arbouin said: “Our thoughts are with Andrzej Kusper’s family, loved ones, and everyone affected by his death.

“We conducted a detailed investigation, independent of the police, in order to establish the circumstances of this tragic incident.

“While it’s clear Mr Kusper placed the item in his mouth which he subsequently choked on, it was our view that the officer’s lack of attention in searching and monitoring Mr Kusper on the way to custody meant the item was not seen before he put it in his mouth.

“This incident shows the importance of carrying out thorough searches of detainees being taken to custody and actively monitoring those being transported to custody.”