Investigations show 'no mistreatment' of 17-year-old drug suspect who died after fall from height: CNB
SINGAPORE: The 17-year-old drug suspect who died from a fall from height three months after he was charged in court was treated "professionally and fairly" during investigations, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) said on Friday (Oct 22).
It added that internal investigations showed "no mistreatment" when he was in the lock-up.
The suspect, identified by CNB as Justin Lee, was arrested in February. He was charged with drug trafficking offences in June and released on bail. He died on Sep 16 after falling from height.
CNB launched an investigation into how Justin was treated and questioned after his mother, Ms Cecilia Ow, alleged that he was mistreated during the process. Earlier this month, she made public a letter she had written to Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, in which she wrote about how she had lost her son to suicide.
Releasing the findings of its investigation on Friday, CNB said toxicology tests conducted after the teen's death found traces of LSD and nitrazepam in his urine and blood. LSD is a Class A controlled drug listed under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
An autopsy determined the cause of death to be multiple injuries consistent with being sustained from a fall from height, said CNB, adding that these results and findings will be submitted at the coroner's inquiry.
In a detailed statement on Friday, CNB said it had conducted investigations in January into someone who was suspected of trafficking LSD stamps and was openly advertising them for sale on a messaging app.
After Justin's arrest on Feb 3, it conducted a follow-up operation the next day during which 131 LSD stamps were seized from another location.
"Investigations found that the 131 LSD stamps belonged to Justin. He admitted that they were meant for sale, including to friends. He admitted that he himself had also abused LSD stamps," said CNB.
During the arrest, Justin was "compliant" and did not put up any struggle, said the agency. The officers held on to him while he was handcuffed, and escorted him to various locations in the course of investigations.
This is the standard operating procedure to prevent escape or self-harm, and there was no unreasonable use of force on Justin, said CNB.
In her letter, Ms Ow claimed that six to nine officers chased him down before arresting him. She also alleged that Justin was interrogated in an "abrasive" manner, held in custody in "less than ideal" conditions in a frigid cell and was not allowed to contact his family.
NUMBER OF OFFICERS DEPLOYED
After Justin's arrest on Feb 3, CNB said nine officers were deployed for a follow-up operation on the same day at his home.
"The number of officers deployed takes into account various factors. There is a need for operational flexibility in the event that there were more suspects and arrests to be made, or if any follow-up operations needed to be immediately conducted," said the agency.
Six of the nine officers entered the unit after being granted permission by Ms Ow, who was present, said CNB.
Among the six, one senior officer leading the team and one female officer engaged Ms Ow, while four officers escorted Justin to his bedroom. Two remained by his side while the other two conducted the search, which lasted about 20 minutes, said CNB.
Justin was later escorted to the CNB Enforcement Office at Bedok Police Divisional Headquarters.
CNB said that arrested people under investigation are not allowed to speak to next-of-kin on the details of the case, but are allowed to talk about general matters.
"In this case, Justin spoke with Ms Cecilia Ow after the search. Further, as he could not locate his eczema medication, Ms Cecilia Ow was also present when he was looking for his eczema medication in his room with the help of CNB officers," said the agency.
Justin was then transferred to the Central Police Divisional Headquarters, where he was examined by a lock-up medical doctor on Feb 4.
The subsequent medical report concluded that Justin was well and that "the physical examination was unremarkable", said CNB.
"When Justin was released from the lock-up, he signed to acknowledge that he had no complaints. Justin was not mistreated in any way."
NO MISTREATMENT IN CUSTODY: CNB
During his time in the lock-up, CCTV footage showed that he was given a blanket, said CNB.
It added that he was also given his meals, including drinks, during his time in the lock-up - both in February and in June. He was also informed of his rights to request for these items if he wanted to.
Addressing Ms Ow's claims that her son was prohibited from doing push-ups to warm his body in the "frigid" cell, CNB said that CCTV footage from Jun 23 showed no instances of him trying to do push-ups, nor any restrictions imposed on him from moving about in the cell.
Based on interviews with officers, Justin was also not denied water during his time in custody, contrary to allegations, said CNB.
"In fact, all drug suspects are given ample access to water in order to be able to provide their urine specimen for drug tests to be conducted," said the agency.
RELEASE FROM CUSTODY
The agency also said that Justin's case was investigated in a "reasonable" period, and that he was released from custody "without delay".
In her letter, Ms Ow questioned why CNB did not give an estimate of how long Justin's interrogation would take and why he did not have his mobile phone while in custody.
"As the duration of interviews and serving of charges varies from case to case, it is not possible to provide an estimate to next-of-kin on the duration required," said the agency.
Arrested people are also not allowed to retain their personal belongings, including mobile devices, when admitted into lock-up for "security reasons", said CNB.
"This is to prevent unauthorised communication with others which may jeopardise the investigation, escape by the arrested subject, or injury to self or others."
The agency added that belongings seized for the purpose of investigations are typically returned only at the end of the court process as they might be required as evidence for the offences.
CNB said that for young suspects under investigations in non-capital cases, it ensures that the suspects are released on bail "as soon as possible".
In Justin's case, CNB said that his arrest on Feb 3 took place at about 7.25pm and the house search from about 9pm to 9.20pm.
After a urine test, recording of further statement and detailed searches and documentation of personal property, Justin was admitted to lock-up at about 1.30am the next day.
He was allowed to rest before his first video-recorded interview near noon on Feb 4. Following the recovery of the 131 LSD stamps, a second video-recorded interview was conducted from about 7.30pm to 8pm.
After the second interview, Justin was allowed to make a call to Ms Ow at about 8.50pm, and was released on bail to her at about 10.40pm on Feb 4, said CNB.
CNB said its last contact with Justin was on Jun 23 when he was asked to report to its headquarters where he was served charges.
He was released on bail at about 7.50pm that night.
"When Justin was released from custody of the lock-up, he signed to acknowledge that he had no complaints. This was the last contact that CNB had with him," said the agency.
The teen was charged in court on Jun 24 and released on court bail.
"Regarding the allegations that the court had postponed the case a few times which added more stress to Justin, the prosecution was ready to take the plea on Jun 24 when Justin was charged in court," said CNB.
"It was the defence counsel representing Justin who had requested to adjourn the court mentions four times," said the agency, adding that the mentions were eventually delayed to Sep 23.
Addressing Ms Ow's concerns about why Justin was not accompanied by a "trusted adult" during the interviews, CNB said the Appropriate Adult Scheme is used for suspects under 16 who are being interviewed by SPF or CNB during criminal investigations.
The agency noted that Justin was 17 years old at the time of his arrest.
It added that during Justin's first interview on Feb 4, he informed the investigating officer that he had depression and had previously been diagnosed by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).
CNB said it proceeded with the two interviews on Feb 4 taking into consideration the following factors: "He was composed and coherent during the interviews, and was able to logically articulate the flow of events, including sharing about his research on drugs and his trafficking modus operandi.
"He sought clarifications when he wanted to make amendments. He was observed not to show signs of distress during the interviews."
The investigating officer also applied for a medical report from IMH, which stated that he was referred in 2020 by the school-based REACH community team for "low mood and suicidality", said CNB.
The report also stated that he was diagnosed with dysthymia, a form of depression, and had been seeing a psychologist regularly.
CNB said that its officers "exercised sensitivity" throughout their interactions and endeavoured to release Justin on bail as soon as possible.
"No physical force, nor any abrasive language, were used at any time while he was in CNB's custody," said the agency.
CNB also said Justin was referred to medical doctors due to his own declarations of "eczema, mild depression" and "eczema, minor depression" on Feb 4 and Jun 23 respectively.
"In the subsequent medical reports issued and email clarifications with the doctors, there were no allegations of assault," said the agency.
The medical report for the examination on Jun 23 also stated that Justin was "stable with no acute issues", "not experiencing any hallucinations", "did not have any self-harm or suicidal thoughts" and "did not report feeling unwell", said CNB.
The agency said it shared the findings of its investigations with Ms Ow on Friday.
CNB noted that it has been engaging her since Sep 20 and offered psychological support, which she consented to on Sep 21. A CNB psychologist spoke to her for about an hour on Sep 22, said the agency, adding that the psychologist was also present when a CNB senior official met Ms Ow at her home on Sep 30.
"However, a family member conveyed later on the same day on her behalf that she did not wish to take up further psychological support from CNB," said the agency.
"CNB understands that this is a difficult time for Ms Cecilia Ow and will continue to render assistance to her."
Where to get help:
Samaritans of Singapore Hotline: 1800 221 4444
Institute of Mental Health's Helpline: 6389 2222
Singapore Association of Mental Health Helpline: 1800 283 7019
You can also find a list of international helplines here. If someone you know is at immediate risk, call 24-hour emergency medical services.