Five Beijing police officers are under investigation for the mysterious death of a man in police custody that ignited national outrage and suspicion of police brutality last month.
Lei Yang, a 29-year-old environmental scientist left 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 is a well-educated young professional and that it happened in China’s capital has fellow middle-class netizens spooked. After initial reports of Lei’s death went viral, the news has 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.
Lei’s family were allowed in to see his body. They say that he was covered in bruises. An initial independent autopsy has been performed, but the results have yet to be released to the public.
Afterward, Lei’s family filed an official complaint with Beijing prosecutors, charging that the officers involved 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, via SCMP.
Xing Yongrui, the officer in charge of the undercover prostituion sting, appeared on state TV to refute widespread allegations that police had been “overly aggressive” while detaining Lei. He added that the prostitutes involved have 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.
Nearly a month after Lei’s suspicious death, the Beijing Changping District prosecution department have completed a preliminary investigation, deciding that it merits further investigation and announcing that five Beijing cops are under investigation, state media reports.