Anorak News | Simeon Francis – ‘I Can’t Breathe’: Say the words on camera and media will notice your unexplained death in police custody

Simeon Francis – ‘I Can’t Breathe’: Say the words on camera and media will notice your unexplained death in police custody

by | 19th, June 2020

Simeon Francis, 35, died in a police cell on 20 May. He’d been arrested in Exeter and for reasons unclear sent to a police station in Torquay, around 20 miles away. A post mortem was unable to settle on a cause of death. Devon and Cornwall Police issued a statement on May 21, 2020. Mr Francis’s death triggered a mandatory investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct. Assistant Chief Constable Jim Colwell stated:

“An independent investigation by the IOPC will always be carried out following a death in police custody. The force made this referral immediately and has co-operated fully with the IOPC ever since, this will continue in the coming weeks and months.

“Our thoughts and condolences remain with the family and friends of Mr Francis and we remain committed to a wholly appropriate, independent and thorough investigation into the events surrounding Mr Francis’ death.

“As this matter remains subject to an IOPC independent investigation it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time, but our communities can be rest assured that Devon & Cornwall Police will always operate with integrity, honesty and transparency.”

So says the police. Regional Director Catrin Evans said:

“Our thoughts are with Mr Francis’ family and friends following his death. We will be keeping his family updated during the course of our independent investigation. Our investigators have begun gathering evidence and statements from officers. We are analysing a considerable amount of CCTV footage from the custody suite. We are looking at the level of care provided during the period of detention, including the frequency and adequacy of checks carried out.”

Mr Francis was a persistent offender. In 2017, a report into his arrest and conviction for car crime noted that it was his 175th offence. A report in 2018 says Mr Francis was addicted to Class A drugs and had threatened prison offices but not physically hurt them. The presiding Judge observed: “If any one of the people sitting here in court had been through that childhood, we would probably be in the same position as he is now.”

The purpose of noting that is to illustrate that Mr Francis was known to the police. So when he was arrested in Exeter in July 2019, police might well have known who he was. Given his lengthy criminal record for theft and drugs, they might also have assumed he’d be non-violent. But someone took a video of that arrest. In it we see three police officers sitting on Mr Francis, who is on the pavement – one by his head, one by his midriff and one on his legs. Two more officers are very close by. In all, ten officers were on the scene. “Do you really need that many officers on him?” says an onlooker. Says Mr Francis: “I can’t breathe.”

And with those three words, the mysterious death of a black man in police custody becomes news. They were the words uttered by George Floyd as he was being murdered by police in the US, as is alleged.

Desmond Jaddoo is Mr Francis’s family spokesman. He says: “I have written to Shaun Sawyer, the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall Police, lodging a formal complaint of racial discrimination, use of excessive force and intimidation. This video raises concerns of the actual treatment of Mr Francis by Devon and Cornwall Police. It has caused his family further and extreme distress during this difficult time.”

So here’s the key question: was Mr Francis’s death preventable? We might also wonder if had a white aristocrat died in a police cell, people would be satisfied when the State says it is unable to say how he died? A family statement notes: “The news of the death of another black man whilst in police custody raises again the concerns regarding the disproportionality of black people dying in custody.” His siblings add: ” No matter Simeon’s past, he was our brother and well loved. We want answers as to why he died in these circumstances. We are devastated at the news of his death and now seek justice for him.”

So there it is. Had it not been for the death of George Floyd, Simeon Francis would be just another statistic. Now he’s news. Good.

Posted: 19th, June 2020 | In: News Comment | TrackBack | Permalink