By Andrew Loh -
The mother of a former prison inmate has filed a Writ of Summons against the Singapore Government for aggravated damages in the inmate’s death while in police custody.
Dinesh Raman Chinnaiah died from positional asphyxia on 27 September 2010 while in Changi Prison, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) which had conducted an internal investigation into the death.
Deputy Superintendent Lim Kwo Yin, the supervising officer when the incident which led to Dinesh Raman’s death happened, was the only one charged for the death. It was reported that 8 officers in total were involved in restraining Dinesh Raman in the incident which led to his death.
Lim subsequently pled guilty to “causing death by a negligent act” and was fined S$10,000 by the courts on 19 July 2013.
The government has accepted liability for the death and said it “will compensate the family.” It said it had also started discussions with the family about this.
Dinesh Raman’s family, however, has rejected the government’s findings and had requested the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) to instruct the Coroner to re-open his inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death. The Coroner had discontinued his inquiry on 24 July after the MHA disclosed its findings into the death, and after Lim was found guilty by the courts.
The AGC has since denied the family’s request.
Dinesh Raman’s mother, Selvi Narayanasamy, filed a court application on 21 August to ask the court to compel the Coroner to re-open the inquiry. The case is pending before the courts.
In her latest court action, Selvi Narayanasamy is accusing the prison officers of abusing their positions of authority, that they “ignored the physical symptoms” exhibited by Dinesh as he was being restrained, and “continued their assault on Dinesh”, leading to his death.
It was reported in the press that “it took 8 officers” to restrain Dinesh Raman in a “fierce struggle” which lasted “30 minutes”. (link)
“Consequently, Dinesh sustained severe injuries from which he passed away on 27 September 2010,” Selvi Narayansamy says.
“[Dinesh] died an unnatural death as a result of the oppressive assault by the Prison Service Officers while in lawful custody of the Prison Service,” her writ added.
She is also contesting the government’s claims that her son’s act of kicking a prison officer, which apparently was the incident which led to him being restrained and eventually leading to his death, was “unprovoked”.
In her writ, Selvi Narayanasamy relates what took place on the morning her son died.
Between 7.30am and 7.45am on 27 September 2010, prison officer Sgt Yen Chia Hsien said to Dinesh Raman at cell 555, “Dinesh, long time never see you. Now you come back, you become a suicidal [sic]watch.”
It is believed that Dinesh Raman had been put on suicide watch because he was reported to have tried to commit suicide earlier, a view which his family rejects.
“The words meant and/or were understood by Dinesh to mean that Sgt Yen was partial against him,” the writ says.
Upon hearing Sgt Yen’s remarks, Dinesh Raman reportedly replied, “Sir, you got something against me, is it?”
“Dinesh then turned away from Sgt Yen and, as he turned away, he gestured his middle finger at Sgt Yen and uttered a vulgarity,” the writ explained. “Sgt Yen verbally reported the incident to DSP Darius [Lim Kwo Yin]. However, no written report was lodged.”
At about 9.45am, Dinesh Raman was let out of his cell to go to the outdoor yard for an hour of outdoor time, although he was not supposed to be allowed to do so that day.
At 10.45am, the writ says, “because of the incident that occurred earlier in the morning, as Dinesh was returning from the Outdoor Yard to his cell… he was accosted by Sgt Jonathan and then tackled by Sgt Yen onto the ground.”
“Sgt Jonathan applied the Oleoresin Capsicum Delivery System (OCDS) [pepper spray]and applied the same onto Dinesh’s face,” Selvi Narayanasamy’s writ says. “Sgt Jonathan then placed both his knees against the side of Dinesh’s head and applied pressure. Consequently, Dinesh was unable to breathe. At the same time, Dinesh was also weakened by the OCDS. His eyes became red and there was mucus coming out from his nose. All these physical symptoms were ignored. He was then handcuffed to his back and placed in a prone position.”
What followed were various officers being deployed and taking turns to restrain Dinesh Raman as he was subdued and taken to another cell – DHU Cell Number 1.
Later, when he was brought to the Outdoor Yard, Dinesh Raman was “drooling from his mouth,” the writ says. “Again, this physical symptom was ignored.”
While still being restrained by the officers, he “was brought to stand in front of two rows of inmates and then instructed to continuously shout (each time louder than the previous) using vulgar language in Hokkien and directed at a notorious [secret society]gang.”
As he was being brought to DHU Cell Number 1, he was put on the floor in prone position 4 times at various points along the way, all the while being restrained by various means by the officers.
Upon reaching DHU Cell Number 1, Dinesh Raman was put in a prone position on the floor for a 5th time, according to Selvi Narayanasamy’s writ.
“While in DHU Cell Number 1, one of the Prison Service Officers then poured water on Dinesh’s face but there was no response from him. More water was poured onto Dinesh’s face. However, there was still no response from Dinesh. DSP Darius then gave instructions to all the Prison Service Officers in DHU Cell Number 1 to leave the cell, leaving Dinesh unattended.”
“Dinesh’s body was presenting adverse physical symptoms,” the writ says. “The Prison Service Officers ignored the physical symptoms and continued their assault on Dinesh.”
The prison officers named in the writ are:
- Deputy Superintendent of Prison Lim Kwo Yin Darius.
- Deputy Superintendent of Prison Harry Yap Hong Hock
- Assistant Superintendent of Prison Teo Chong Lian Dylan
- Chief Warden Daljit Singh s/o Gurbachan Singh
- Chief Warden Rozairudin Bin Zaini
- Sergeant Yen Chia Hsien
- Sergeant Tan Heng Chye Marcus
- Sergeant Lee Fangwei Jonathan
- Corporal Anand Pereira
- Corporal Robby bin Sulaiman
On 12 August, after the conclusion of the criminal case against Lim, the Ministry of Home Affairs said it had “initiated disciplinary action against the superintendent, supervisors and other officers involved in the incident.”
The ministry has not disclosed what these disciplinary actions are.
Lawyer M Ravi, counsel for Selvi Narayanasamy, explains why the family is seeking aggravated damages:
“Our case is that a prison officer had been angered by Dinesh, who had shown him the middle finger and uttered a vulgarity at him. They then let Dinesh out to the yard (when he was not supposed to be in the yard that day), when that prison officer who had been angered set upon Dinesh and assaulted him. Other prison officers joined in the assault. When they brought him to the cell, they knew he was already unconscious and unresponsive. He was deliberately left in the cell with no effort to resuscitate him."
“In other words we want the government to admit liability based on our version of the facts and not the government's version.”
“The actions by the officers were not merely a negligent act but deliberate and intentional. This is diametrically opposed to the way that the government has presented its account of the circumstances of Dinesh’s death.”