The recent untimely death of a Maltese man in a jail cell in the middle of the night has led to questions about how police should approach intoxicated people and people not in control of their senses.
“When it comes to intoxicated people, you just can’t keep them in a cell – they need to be in a hospital,” a veteran police officer told Lovin Malta.
“If he has a history of being intoxicated or being drugged,” they continued, “he needs to be taken straight to a hospital. We shouldn’t be putting drugged or intoxicated people in cells. Police are not nurses, they are not doctors…”
Indeed, the issue of treating intoxicated people as one would criminals has led to fatal consequences in the past.
“We’ve had cases where we had people who were intoxicated and taken into a cell only for them to vomit and suffocate in their own vomit. Once, we had one person who even suffocated on his own tongue,” they recounted.
The recent death of Richmond Tong has thrown bare the risks vulnerable people are put in when arrested and not taken care off appropriately. Tong was placed in a jail cell at the Floriana police depot after he was arrested late at night when police thought he was acting suspiciously and found what they suspected to be drugs on him.
Soon after, he had a seizure and died, police said. An autopsy has yet to be concluded.
“We police have a problem,” the officer said. “Whenever we arrest an intoxicated person, we take them to a police station because if we take them to a hospital or clinic they’ll tell us not to let him in because they’ll make a mess and they don’t have any injuries. So then we’re forced to say he fell outside and bumped his head… just so we can get the individual some medical attention…”
It’s not just intoxication – recently, Maltese man Ronnie Ghiller lost his life after having a psychological breakdown and police were called. As police attempted to arrest him, he was tasered and sedated and died shortly afterwards.
In this officer’s view, a person having a medical or psychological problem should be treated by people trained in the medical and psychological fields – and not by police officers who are trained otherwise.
“It’s difficult holding a drug user in a cell, he’ll need drugs and other support, especially if he is coming down from his high,” the officer pointed out.
Resources like bodycams and even cameras within cells or hallways in police stations may help investigators find out what truly happened whenever tragedy strikes – especially when a death is chalked up to someone being a drug-user.
“Body cameras would help here – was the person truly intoxicated when they found him? Either way, the family are going to be left wondering, and they are going to be left looking for answers,” they ended.