A Metropolitan Police officer has been cleared of using unlawful force after striking a teenager with a baton when conducting a stop-and-search.
Detective Constable Kevin Rowley was found not guilty of assault by beating following a trial at Hendon Magistrates’ Court.
The court heard how Rowley struck the male some five times with his baton after he and a colleague tried to perform a stop-and-search on two youths on Heath Park Road in Romford, east London.
Footage of the incident went viral on social media, which appeared to show the complainant, 18-year-old Tyrell Vassell, shouting “You can’t do this” and “I’m a child”.
Arabella MacDonald, prosecuting, said it was the crown’s case that the use of force on April 22 last year was “unlawful” and that Rowley had been exaggerating about Mr Vassell’s behaviour.
But passing verdict, District Judge Tan Ikram said: “I don’t find he was exaggerating. In fact, some of the witnesses went so far as to say (Mr Vassell) was uncontrollable.”
Mr Ikram said the prosecution had not satisfied him that the force used was unreasonable.
He added: “What the prosecution have not done is satisfy me that when the officer acted at the time, that he was using force which was not reasonable.
“Therefore, for these reasons, I find the defendant not guilty.”
Rowley, an officer with the Met for over 16 years, sat mostly with his head in his hands as the verdict was handed down on Thursday.
During the prosecution’s closing submissions, Ms MacDonald said the footage was “so clear” that “use of force was not reasonable or necessary”.
But Rowley called these claims “nonsense” during his cross examination during the trial.
The court heard Rowley and another police officer attempted to carry out a stop-and-search after spotting Mr Vassell, who was 17 at the time, holding a “wad of cash” while walking with another youth.
The 37-year-old said he and his colleague, who were both in plain clothes, told the youths they were going to search them for drugs, after apparently smelling cannabis.
He told the court he had put the teenager in a headlock, took him to the floor and took hold of his wrists, as the other police officer chased the other youth, who had fled.
“I’m now alone with an agitated and aggressive male who is not complying and made it clear from the start with his words of, ‘you ain’t searching me, I know my rights’,” Rowley told the court.
He said that he had told Mr Vassell to calm down, and explained he was handcuffing him for his safety, which resulted in a struggle between them.
“At first I thought that had worked,” he said, “He just lost it. He got more aggressive and got to his feet.”
Rowley told the court he had delivered “two to three” knee strikes to the teenager to the thigh, adding: “I wasn’t trying to hurt him. All I was trying to do was detain him.
“I had gone through handcuffs, verbal commands, knee strikes – my only option was to draw my baton.”
On using his baton, he said: “It was five times on the thigh as per our officer safety training.”
He added: “I said to him I did not want to use force, but I will if you do not comply.”
The incident was referred to the police watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
The court heard that Mr Vassell had been cautioned for a small amount of cannabis found on his person – five small bags – and subsequently arrested for obstruction of a drug search.
Speaking after the verdict, Met Police Federation chairman Ken Marsh said he was pleased with the result and called for better understanding of the “threats officers encounter on a daily basis”.
He said: “It’s very easy to make accusations over the conduct and actions of police officers from the comfort of a desk, but we would ask people to walk a day in our boots to experience the extreme challenges we face.”
Mr Marsh added: “What this case has once again shown is that it’s vital in 2020 that my hard-working colleagues are not judged and juried by social media – a short clip of an incident does not always tell the full policing story.”
Additional reporting by PA Media