An inquiry into the death of Sheku Bayoh in police custody has heard that an officer found a knife across the road from where he was being restrained.
Pc James McDonough was giving evidence to the inquiry in Edinburgh, where he claimed he had “taken a step back” from officers who were administering first aid to Mr Bayoh after he became unconscious on the morning of May 3 2015.
Pc McDonough said: “It was round about that point where I’ve taken the opportunity to look for the knife that was still unaccounted for and it’s probably just purely by chance.
“I’ve taken a look over my right shoulder and I can see on the grass area on the other side of the road. It looked like the inside of a crisp packet.
“Curiosity got the better of me, I’ve went and had a look and found a knife on the grass.”
The inquiry previously heard from Pc Ashley Tomlinson, who said he was unable to find a knife on Mr Bayoh after a search when he had been restrained.
Pc McDonough was also asked about de-escalation techniques used when officers are called to incidents where knives are involved.
The officer, who was still in his probationary period with six months’ service during the events in question, said: “Your best tool is your voice, communication skills. You generally find there’s no timescale on how long it should take to be able to communicate with someone.”
My emotions were all over the place. I've only got six months' service at that point
Pc James McDonough
“Even if someone is giving you some sort of response, you can keep going down the route of communication and eventually they will come down to your level and understanding and become compliant, essentially.”
Previous accounts from other officers said Mr Bayoh was unco-operative with officers and did not respond to their requests or questions.
Pc McDonough was asked by senior counsel to the inquiry Angela Grahame QC what would happen if officers received no response, to which he replied: “It depends what the threat is, I suppose, what the circumstances are, the nature of the call. The circumstances need to be weighed up.
“It depends what the threat posed in front of you is in that moment of time. Yes, you could do because you could maintain your distance. If there’s no knife visible, the threat goes up at that point.”
Ms Grahame asked about his feelings on the day Mr Bayoh died. He told her he felt “subdued and depressed” and was “staring into space”.
Pc McDonough added: “My emotions were all over the place. I’ve only got six months’ service at that point. There’s a lot going through my head. Is this right for me? Is this normal? Does this happen more regularly? So, quite upset as well.”
The officer, who still serves with Police Scotland, said he feared he may lose his job or be imprisoned.
He added: “I think it’s the unknown that you don’t really know what’s happening. It has an emotional effect on you because you’re thinking all sorts at that point: Am I going to get locked up? Are you going to lose your job? You just didn’t know what to think and what to do.”
Ms Grahame also asked about his equality and diversity training at Tulliallan Police College, and asked if he had an awareness of stereotypes relating to black men.
He said: “Yes I’m aware of stereotypes. A stereotype I’m aware of is: all black males are superior athletes or good at running.
“Another one, it was mentioned the other day: all young black males are involved in gangs. So I am aware of them because I think it’s important to be aware of them because it’s about being able to educate people, being able to recognise stereotypes. It’s really important that you need to be aware of them.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the inquiry heard from Sergeant Scott Maxwell, who was running the shift on May 3.
He said he considered that the incident may be a terrorist incident based on the UK threat level at the time but it did not ultimately inform his response to the incident.
In a statement, he said his officers were “in fear for their lives” and that they had been faced with a hostile and dangerous situation.
Actions by officers that had been described to him had been “fully justified” according to the same statement, the inquiry heard.
He also claimed he did not have the full information about the scene upon arrival. He was not aware Mr Bayoh had been struck on the head by a baton.
He said: “If I’d known he’d been struck in the head by a baton, I’d have called for an ambulance straight away.
“At the end of the day, any baton strike to the body would be significant but to the head, the brain, the trauma that could cause. That’s a high priority we need to get that centre.”
Sgt Maxwell will appear at the inquiry again on Wednesday to continue his evidence.