Singapore

Watching him in handcuffs was difficult: Mother of teen who died after drug trafficking charge

SINGAPORE - Watching her 17-year-old son in handcuffs being interviewed by Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers was hard, Ms Cecilia Ow said.

The 51-year-old was at the CNB headquarters on Friday (Oct 22), four hours before the findings of the internal investigation were released.

Ms Ow said she was told of the outcome of the investigations and shown closed-circuit television footage of her son, Justin Lee, being interviewed by CNB officers.

"It was him and two officers and all the while his left hand was handcuffed to the table, but other than that he looked well. Just watching him was difficult," said the senior lecturer at a polytechnic.

Justin, who was facing drug trafficking charges, died after a fall from height on Sept 16.

Speaking to The Straits Times, Ms Ow said she does not dispute the findings, but she noted that the investigation was not conducted by an independent body. 

The CNB findings said Justin was treated professionally and fairly, and was examined by doctors while incarcerated.

The bureau added that an autopsy found traces of LSD in the boy's urine and blood.

Ms Ow also took issue with the fact that despite Justin telling the investigating officers that he was diagnosed with depression, they continued to interview him without support from an Appropriate Adult (AA).

Under the AA scheme, mentally vulnerable people may be accompanied by a trained volunteer who will watch for signs of distress, support their emotional well-being, and assist in communications during law enforcement interviews.

CNB said in its findings on Friday that it had proceeded with both the first and second video-recorded interviews on Feb 4, having taken into consideration that Justin was composed and coherent during the interviews, and observed not to show signs of distress.

Ms Ow said: "But the thing is, you don't know my son. At home, he was a different creature.

"If you even know generally about teenage boys, they will put up a front and a facade. He wanted to appear strong."

She took issue with the fact that a mental health practitioner was not called in to assess if Justin needed more support.

"I'm not saying CNB is totally responsible... I know that it was multiple factors. But if efforts had been made to minimise the trauma from the arrest, that would have been a really good start; for them to show a little bit more human side," said Ms Ow, who is divorced and has another child.

Among other changes, Ms Ow hopes that the AA scheme for young suspects could be expanded to cover those under the age of 21. It is now for those under 16 years old.

"I'll only find closure when I see positive change... It doesn't benefit me personally to do all this, but I just want to prevent another case like Justin's."

Helplines

• National Care Hotline:
1800-202-6868 (8am - 12am)

Mental well-being

• Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline:
6389-2222 (24 hours)

• Samaritans of Singapore:
1800-221-4444 (24 hours) /1-767 (24 hours)

• Singapore Association for Mental Health:
1800-283-7019

• Silver Ribbon Singapore:
6386-1928

• Tinkle Friend:
1800-274-4788 and www.tinklefriend.sg

• Community Health Assessment Team:
6493-6500/1 and www.chat.mentalhealth.sg

Counselling

• TOUCHline (Counselling):
1800-377-2252

• TOUCH Care Line (for seniors, caregivers):
6804-6555

• Care Corner Counselling Centre:
1800-353-5800

Online resources

• mindline.sg

• My Mental Health

• Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service


 

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