Two Beijing police officers have been arrested for the mysterious death of a man in police custody that ignited national outrage and suspicion of police brutality in May.
Lei Yang, a 29-year-old environmental scientist left his home between 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. on May 7th to pick up his relatives from the Beijing airport. Only two weeks before, Lei’s wife had given birth and his family members were rushing over from his hometown in Hunan to see the newborn baby. It was also his three-year wedding anniversary.
However, he never made it to the airport. Instead, Lei was picked up in a prostitution sting at a foot massage parlor along the way at 9:14 p.m. Police allege that Lei tried to run away and resist arrest, so he was “forcibly restrained” and taken to the Changping District police station. Less than an hour later, he was rushed to a nearby hospital, showing no signs of life. He was officially declared dead a short time later.
While police brutality is certainly nothing new in China, the fact that the dead man in this case was a well-educated young professional and that it happened in China’s capital spooked fellow middle-class netizens. After initial reports of Lei’s death went viral, the news dominated national headlines, igniting outrage and demands for a serious investigation into his death, with many believing that he had been killed while being tortured in police custody.
Nearly a month later, the Beijing Changping District prosecution department completed its preliminary investigation, deciding that the case merited further investigation, prosecutors announced on July 1st that five Beijing cops would be put under investigation.
Another month later and the results of that investigation are in. A deputy police chief surnamed Xing and a police assistant surnamed Zhou will be charged with dereliction of duty for acting “improperly” when detaining Lei. The pair are also suspected of attempting to obstruct the follow-up investigation, according to a Sina News report.
Lei Yang’s autopsy results have also been made public, showing that he died from suffocating on his own vomit. The findings support claims made by Lei’s family, who say that Lei’s body was covered in bruises when they saw it soon after his death. Lei’s wife later filed an official complaint with Beijing prosecutors, charging that officers had violated protocol, abused their power and forged evidence.
“Without adequate evidence, police carried out restraining measures and violently assaulted Lei, leaving him in a near-death situation. Delaying his treatment caused Lei to pass away within 50 minutes of being apprehended by police,” the letter read.
Xing Yongrui, the officer in charge of the undercover prostituion sting, appeared on state TV in May to refute widespread allegations that police had been “overly aggressive” while detaining Lei. He added that the prostitutes involved had confirmed that Lei paid 200 yuan for sex and that a condom was found at the scene with his DNA inside.
However, footage from four different CCTV cameras from outside the massage parlor fail to show a struggle between Lei and police. Officers also weren’t wearing video recording devices at the time. Xing says that they were carrying out an undercover, plainclothes operation, so those weren’t part of the uniform. He says he was recording the operation, but his mobile phone had been knocked to the floor and broken during the struggle.
Finally, police claimed that Lei had died of a heart attack.
The announcement of the officers arrest has made national headlines and gone viral online. However, conversation on the subject is being strictly controlled, with comments not allowed under many major news portals Weibo posts on the story. Prosecutors have denied that two months is an unusually long time to wait to publicly issue the findings of an official autopsy report.