‘Leg-lock’ death and pepper spray incident put spotlight on police tactics

Police kept secret new evidence that suggested officers were responsible for the death of a prisoner in 2011, while police complaint board recommends a review of pepper spray policy

The family of a young man who died in police custody in January 2011 is complaining about the police not pursuing charges against seven officers involved in his death.

Ekrem Sahin, 23, suffered a heart attack after a struggle with officers who placed him in a so-called ‘fixed leg-lock’ – a restraint in which the subject is placed on their stomach and has their arms and legs pinned together behind their back.

Sahin’s death has been investigated several times due to suspicions that officers sat on top of Sahin while placing him in the restraint, thus limiting his ability to breathe.

The state coroner ultimately ruled that Sahin’s death was ‘unknown’ but was probably brought about through acute stress.

But now a previously unreleased document from the heart centre at Rigshospitalet found that the leg-lock likely contributed to Sahin’s heart attack and subsequent death several days later.

“The most likely explanation for the heart attack is that the deceased wasn’t able to breathe and that the lack of oxygen was a primary factor in causing the heart attack” states the report, which was publicly released for the first time last week.

Despite this report, the police have chosen not to pursue charges against the officers involved in the fracas preceding Sahin’s death.

“It’s an incredibly unfortunate case for all parties, but according to our best assessment the prison officers did not exert undue force,” Claus Henrik Larsen, the chief prosecutor for South East Jutland Police, told metroXpress last week. “And if they did not, then there is no case.”

The lawyer representing Sahin’s family, Bjørn Elmquist, has stated that the family will appeal against this decision, however, given that the police had secretly held onto the report since August 2012.

Pepper spray use comes into question

Police have also recently been urged to review official procedures for using pepper spray after three documented incidents in Copenhagen of officers spraying people attempting to evade capture on mopeds.

According to Ritzau, officers have driven up beside mopeds and sprayed the drivers in the face in an attempt to stop them.

The independent police complaints commission, Den Uafhængige Politiklagemyndighed, said that tactic puts the public at risk.

“It can be very dangerous to stop a scooter in this way,” the commission's director, Kirsten Dyrman, told Ritzau.