Mistaken identity case reveals racial bias in policing

PIcture by The Essex Tech (Flickr)

The police watchdog has upheld a complaint following a case of mistaken identity in which a black man was arrested for an offence despite officers being told the suspect was white.

Andrew Okorodudu had been arrested on suspicion of stealing a bicycle in Leather Lane, central London in February 2016. The officers threw Okorodudu to the ground. Medical attention was required at the scene and nearly two years after the incident, Okorodudu complains of ongoing difficulties with his knees.

The newly-branded Independent Office for Police Conduct (formerly the IPCC) has upheld his complaint for an unreasonable arrest. Okorodudu has received a four-figure settlement and an apology, which his lawyer Joanna Bennett of Hodge Jones & Allen, described as ‘half-hearted’

Okorodudu took issue with the police ignoring the ethnicity of the suspect given to them. The suspect had been described over the radio as a white man wearing a light green jacket and blue jeans. The stolen bike was also described as white.

According to the man’s lawyers Hodge Jones & Allen, the real suspect was standing, with the stolen bike, close to a group of cycle couriers. Okorodudu, who is black, approached the group on his silver bike wearing a grey jacket. Whilst the four officers made their arrest of the wrong man, thief made his exit on the stolen bike.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC ) twice overruled a recommendation that a review was not required in their case.

‘This isn’t the first time I’ve been wrongly targeted by the police,’ Okorodudu commented. ‘I’ve lived in London my whole life and it’s simply become a regular thing that I’m looked at suspiciously by the police for simply going about my business.’

‘I’d like to think that telling my story will impact change, but I’m not that hopeful,’ he added.

During the probe into Okorodudu’s complaint, the watchdog found that the officers, who denied hearing the ethnicity of the suspect, had in fact noted that the suspect was a white male.

The IOPC also held, by reviewing CCTV footage of the incident, that the officers’ excuse of bad lighting was not well-founded. Further, they disagreed with the officers’ report that Okorodudu had acted aggressively towards them and resisted arrest.

It held that the police had allowed the situation to quickly become uncontrollable and that excessive force was used. The arrest was also held to be unreasonable.

The IOPC found that the misconduct by one officer was down to unconscious bias.

The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan has just announced that he is set to ’significantly increase’ stop and searches – as reported on the Justice Gap here. Bennett claimed this case demonstrated that ‘despite all the initiatives and training to stamp out racial bias, it clearly still exists within the police force’. Last month, the Justice Gap reported that black people were over eight times more likely to get stopped and searched than white people.

First published on January 12, 2018

Author: Calum McCrae

Calum is a law graduate presently working as an intern at the University of Greenwich’s Innocence Project London. He volunteers as a Justice Gap reporter

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