A young father who was restrained face down and pepper-sprayed by police died by misadventure after a plastic bag containing drugs became stuck in his airway, an inquest jury has found.
Edir Da Costa, 25, died almost a week after the car he was travelling in was pulled over by plain-clothes police officers in June 2017. He had put about 88 wraps containing cocaine and heroin in his mouth at some point before or after getting out of the car.
The 11-member jury had been told by senior coroner Nadia Persaud before beginning their deliberations that there was no legal or factual basis for reaching a conclusion which was critical of the police, in light of all the evidence presented to the inquest.
Da Costa – who had a number of convictions, including for burglary and theft, and possession of cocaine – was being restrained in the prone position when 20-30 wraps were observed on the ground near his mouth, the court heard.
He became unresponsive and was eventually placed in the recovery position after armed officers arrived on the scene, and paramedics removed a plastic bag containing wraps of drugs from his airway, the inquest heard earlier.
The jury acknowledged that the ambulance service had initially been given the wrong address by police but decided the delay had not contributed to the outcome.
An expert witness had earlier told the inquest that police exercised excessive force and failed to give him first aid quickly enough, while a friend who was with him at the time said Da Costa had continued to be held even as he appeared to be having a fit.
His father, Ginario Da Costa, said it had been “extremely traumatic” to listen to some of the evidence presented at the inquest, but that questions remained over the circumstances of his son’s death.
“We cannot help but wonder whether Edir would still be here had the police identified the risk of Edir choking earlier and taken steps to help him,” he said in a statement.
Susie Labinjoh, head of civil liberties at Hodge Jones & Allen, the law firm representing the family, said: “Officers should be taught not to assume that a person is resisting arrest when there is a risk that they are struggling because their breathing has been restricted.”
She added that there were “serious issues” around the correct information being passed from the police control room to the ambulance service.
Jurors in the inquest returned their findings, concluded by a majority verdict, on Thursday at Walthamstow coroner’s court following two days of deliberations after a hearing which lasted almost five weeks.
“Mr Da Costa died from the consequences of cardiorespiratory arrest suffered when his upper airway became obstructed by a plastic bag containing drugs which he had placed in his mouth,” they said.
Known to family and friends as Edson, he had been travelling in a car along with two other men, Jussara Gomes and Claude Greenaway, when they were pulled over in Beckton, east London, by five plain-clothed police officers at about 10pm on 15 June 2017.
Earlier at the inquest, police had linked him with a gang selling heroin and crack cocaine.
Da Costa, who was born in Portugal but moved with his family to London aged five and worked as a car trader, died in Newham University hospital on 21 June 2017 after a period in intensive care.
Commander Dave Musker said on Thursday: “Our thoughts and sympathies remain with Mr Da Costa’s family and friends for their loss.
“The jury’s findings today are in accordance with the conclusions of the IOPC [Independent Office for Police Conduct] investigation – the officers who dealt with Mr Da Costa that day acted correctly in very difficult circumstances as part of their priority work to tackle violence and drug dealing in Newham and to protect the public.”
He added: “There were some points of learning identified by the IOPC that have been addressed.”
A Met police spokesman said the force had worked with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to update the guidance for officers who stop suspects who place items such as drugs in their mouths.