Police: Suspect who died in custody suffered ‘oxygen overdose’

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By HUAI SHASHOU
Crime Correspondent

Police answer a tourist's questions in Beijing yesterday

DONYANG (China Daily Show) – The family of a suspected thief who died in custody have expressed their disappointment and anger at an official police report which concluded their son died from “breathing too much.”

“At the very least, [the police] could have come up with a credible excuse, like a fall down the stairs,” Ma Yonghuan, 58, told reporters. “This insults the memory of my son. He was an asthmatic and couldn’t breathe much anyway. Couldn’t they have just said he had an asthma attack?”

Ma Yipeng, 17, was arrested by police in Donyang, Zhejiang Province last month trying to make off with a side of beef, following a collision between two tricycles carrying grocery supplies.

After being held for six days, police told family members that Ma went to sleep in his cell normally on the evening he died. Officers later discovered him “breathing heavily and clearly on the way out.”

Attempts to save Ma by throttling him failed and he was declared dead by officers shortly after.

Oxygen overdoes are unusual in China, where the air is mostly composed of recycled carbon dioxide and microscopic toxins.

The report, however, is the latest apparent episode of Chinese police taunting victims’ families by proffering ridiculously poor, inept and lazy excuses for deaths in police custody.

In 2009, Li Qiaomong was detained for illegal tree-felling in Jinning County; police attributed his sudden death to “a game of hide-and-seek” gone wrong. One Hebei Province inmate died after “suddenly drinking cold water” while in Guangdong Province,  a suspect fatally “slept under a quilt.”

Rumors now abound of a book being run among officers nationwide for whoever can come up with the most insulting report.

In January, Wuhan police chief Yin Zuo reportedly received a 20,000 yuan payout from peers after explaining the death of a prisoner, referred to only as P, as having “slept-walked into a punching machine left out by two officers trying to demonstrate how [Chinese UFC fighter] Zhang Tiequan beat up Jason Reinhardt again and again.”

One child, suspected of quarreling with his parents, was last month left in a coma after losing “an argument with his brain,” according to officers in Anhui Province.

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