A Hong Kong police officer told a court he had prioritised dispersing “violent” anti-government demonstrators over clearing roadblocks to secure the timely treatment of those injured inside a multistorey car park, where a university student suffered fatal injuries last year.
Senior Inspector Wong Ka-lun said when firefighters and paramedics were treating an unconscious Alex Chow Tsz-lok, who was believed to have fallen from one floor to another at the car park in Tseung Kwan O, he did not consider clearing the roadblocks set up by protesters outside the building first to ensure the 22-year-old could receive prompt medical attention in hospital.
Wong said he and his team were tasked with conducting a sweep inside the car park, where black-clad radicals had earlier hurled glass bottles and traffic cones at officers.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
He claimed he feared the protesters would turn to assault those who were treating Chow. He also believed he could ensure Chow’s efficient treatment by eliminating the “threat” on the upper floors of the building.
On the third day of a 25-day inquest at the Coroner’s Court, lawyers representing Chow’s family questioned the rationale behind police’s decisions to fire tear gas rounds inside the car park and pay no heed to the injured student during a subsequent clearance operation in the early hours of November 4, 2019.
The court heard that a team of 37 officers from the East Kowloon Emergency Unit entered the Sheung Tak Estate car park via its ground floor exit. The team, together with another 35 officers from another subunit, had previously fired tear gas rounds, rubber bullets, beanbag rounds and sponge grenades to disperse some 200 protesters from the area.
Officers told the court the force entered the building at 1.10am, while news footage and security footage at the car park gave the time as 1.04am. It was not yet clear whether police entered the car park before or after Chow’s falling.
Barrister Flora Cheng Suk-yee, on behalf of the deceased student’s family, said when the inspector found out Chow was injured, he should have realised the need to remove obstacles on the road outside the car park first, so the student could be transferred to hospital quickly.
“Did it ever occur to you … how a seriously injured person could have left the place quickly to receive treatment?” Cheng asked the inspector.
“I had a higher consideration in my mind,” Wong replied. “Some violent protesters were still lurking inside the car park. My job was to clear that threat so [paramedics] could continue treating the [injured] person.”
“Had I failed to clear the danger first, the firefighters and paramedics could have been assaulted.”
The court was not told whether protesters had targeted people other than police officers on that night.
The inspector also defended his decision to order his teammates to fire tear gas rounds from an adjacent street into the car park earlier, saying the chance of anyone inside the building being hit by the cartridges were “extremely low”.
Five rounds of tear gas were fired at the car park by Wong’s subunit, but most of them failed to reach the building’s interiors, the court was told.
Two shots, fired by Sergeant Lau Hip-shing, had hit the outer wall and bounced off the ground. Another shot fired by policewoman Yeung Lok-yan fell onto the top floor of the car park. Both officers testified that no tear gas smoke had entered the building.
Chow, a Year Three computer science student at the University of Science and Technology, died in hospital four days later due to severe head injuries. It remains unknown how he had fallen onto a lower floor inside the car park, and whether his fall was related to the police operation nearby.
The hearing continues before Coroner Ko Wai-hung and a five-member jury on Thursday.
More from South China Morning Post: