An American corporate lawyer working in Hong Kong has been convicted of assaulting a Hong Kong police officer after he attempted to break up a scuffle in late 2019 amid pro-democracy protests in the city.
Samuel Bickett, 37, while on his way to dinner on Dec. 7 2019, saw a man with a metal baton hitting a teenager and stopped to intervene. The man turned out to be a plain-clothes Hong Kong police officer, and Bickett was arrested and charged with common assault and assaulting an officer.
The former compliance director at the Bank of America was convicted on Tuesday of assaulting Senior Constable Yu Shu-sang, and was denied bail ahead of sentencing on July 6.
Part of the confrontation that took place in a subway station was captured on video. Bickett had not joined a protest when he was arrested, but saw a man with an extendible baton strike a teenager who had jumped a subway turnstile.
Hong Kong police officers were at the time permitted to carry the weapons while off-duty for protection purposes and to execute “constabulary duties,” amid the unrest that rocked the city over an extradition bill.
The plain-clothes Hong Kong police officer had initially stated that he was not a police officer, when asked by a fellow commuter, before eventually saying yes. When questioning Yu, that commuter used the term “popo”—a slang term for police used by pro-democracy protestors.
Yu’s defence team argued in the trial that Bickett tried to take his baton, dragged him onto the floor, knelt on his chest and punched his face.
Bickett’s attorneys argued that he thought Yu was using excessive force, and that he was trying to stop him from attacking the other individual. Bickett didn’t know that Yu was an officer, his team argued. The 37-year-old also argued that he was concerned Yu might injure other commuters.
Magistrate Arthur Lam Hei-wei argued that Yu identified himself in video evidence, and that he thought it “perfectly understandable” for Yu to not immediately state his position given the “disrespectful reference,” according to the South China Morning Post.
“There is simply no justification for the defendant to snatch [Yu’s] baton when no one was in immediate danger,” the magistrate said. “He could have simply asked [Yu] to put back his baton for further discussion.”
Bickett said in a written statement that the verdict was outrageous and “entirely unsupportable by both the law and the evidence in this case”.
He added: “I will appeal this verdict, and I will not rest until justice is done.”
In Hong Kong, assaulting a police officer carries a maximum six months’ imprisonment and a fine.
June 9, 2019, marked the start of the pro-democracy, anti-Chinese Communist Party movement in Hong Kong, when more than 1 million Hongkongers took to the streets in protest against an extradition bill that would have seen suspects being handed over to China for trial in Party-controlled courts, which are notorious for being used to silence critics and punish dissidents. The extradition bill was formally scrapped months later.
After the bill was shelved, protesters in Hong Kong continued to demand universal suffrage and an independent investigation into police brutality against protesters. The protests died down in the Chinese-ruled city after the Chinese regime imposed a draconian national security law last year. Since then, activists and opposition figures have been charged under the law while others have sought asylum in other countries.
Hong Kong police arrested more than 10,100 people and prosecuted over 2,300 people between June 9, 2019, and Nov. 30, 2020, according to the police department’s Facebook page. Many of those prosecuted were accused of riot, illegal assembly, or criminal damage.
Frank Fang contributed to this report.