“I CAN’T breathe. You’re killing me,” were the last words of Paul Coker, a mixed race youth, as he was being arrested for causing a disturbance at his girlfriend’s home in south London in August 2005.
Police took Paul Coker away and the next days his family were informed he had died in custody two hours after being put in a cell, an inquest at Southwark Coroner’s Court was told last week.
A jury will decide if police followed correct detention procedures. The court heard Coker became unwell and collapsed after being transported to cells.
Coroner Selina Lynch told jurors that a pathologist's report gave the cause of death as cocaine intoxication.
Members of Coker's family, including his mother Patricia Coker, were present in court.
This death in custody was the subject of a campaign for justice for the family in 2005 – an inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission was launched immediately. Once the inquiry started the police refused to tell the family anything about the circumstances of Paul’s death.
It has taken four-and-a-half years for the case to reach the coroner’s court and still there are many unanswered questions.
Paul Coker was a very fit young man who trained regularly. He had been a user of cocaine and cannabis but was reported to have been improving.
His mother Patricia Coker told the coroner’s court: “He tried very hard to overcome these problems in his later life. He found it difficult, but he was really trying to move forward.
"He was basically a very good and decent person," she said.
Coker had been battling depression, substance abuse and had been sentenced for burglary. But days before his death he had secured a new job and was about to move into a flat.
Lucy Chadwick, the girlfriend, told the court Coker had been taking cocaine and cannabis and had become "a bit paranoid".
Her landlord and his sons called the police when he refused to leave. She was with them downstairs when officers entered the room to take him away. "He was saying, 'You are hurting me, I can't breathe, you are killing me'.”