Recently, a mother in Singapore penned a letter to Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, describing how her 17-year-old son committed suicide after he was arrested for drug trafficking.
In her letter, Cecilia Ow made several allegations about how her son Justin Lee was treated by the police during the investigation process.
She said that her son was diagnosed with depression prior to being arrested, and that her son had become a "different person" after his encounters with CNB officers, bringing up examples of how he slept poorly and refused to go out of the house, as he feared being watched by the authorities.
Therefore, she believed that the stress from the legal process "broke him and killed him" as Lee jumped to his death on Sep. 16.
In response, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) issued a second statement on Oct. 22 which updated that the autopsy conducted following Lee's death and the cause of death was determined to be multiple injuries consistent with being sustained from a fall from height.
Toxicology tests were conducted and the report indicated that there were traces of LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), a Class A controlled drug listed under the Misuse of Drugs Act, and Nitrazepam detected in his urine and blood.
These results and findings will be submitted at the Coroner’s Inquiry, the statement added.
The statement also summarised the findings from an internal investigation which address the allegations made by Ow in her letter.
Lee admitted that he was selling LSD stamps
According to CNB's statement, in January 2021, CNB conducted investigations into a man who was suspected of trafficking LSD stamps, and was openly advertising them for sale on a messaging app.
LSD is a Class A controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Class A drugs are considered to be the most harmful.
CNB conducted two successful test buys to verify the information, and arrested the man, who was later ascertained to be Lee, on Feb. 3, at Serangoon North Avenue 4.
In a follow-up operation on Feb. 4, 131 LSD stamps were seized from another location in the vicinity of Serangoon North Avenue 4.
According to CNB, investigations found that the 131 LSD stamps belonged to Lee.
Lee admitted that they were meant for sale, including to friends, and also admitted that he himself had abused LSD stamps.
According to CNB, when Lee was arrested on Feb. 3, Lee was compliant and did not put up any struggle.
CNB officers then held on to him while he was handcuffed, and escorted him to various locations during the course of the investigation.
CNB said that this is a standard operating procedure (SOP) to prevent escape or self-harm, and that there was no unreasonable use of force on him.
Ow was present in his room during the operation
Following Lee's arrest, nine CNB officers were deployed for a follow-up anti-drug operation on the same day at Lee's place of residence located in the vicinity of Hougang Street 22.
CNB said that the number of officers deployed takes into account various factors, including the need for operational flexibility in the event of more suspects and arrests to be made, or any follow-up operations that might need to be conducted immediately.
Six of the nine CNB officers entered the unit, upon being granted permission by Ow herself, who was present.
One senior officer leading the team and one female officer engaged Ow, while the remaining four escorted Lee into his bedroom.
Two officers remained next to Lee, while the other two conducted a search of the room.
The search took place from about 9:02pm to about 9:20pm, and Lee was escorted to the CNB Enforcement Office at Bedok Police Divisional Headquarters following the search.
According to CNB, arrested persons under investigations are not allowed to speak to their next-of-kin (NOK) on the details of the case, but are allowed to converse on general matters.
CNB said that Lee spoke with Ow after the search, and that Ow was present in his room when Lee was locating his eczema medication in his room, with the help of CNB officers.
Lee was subsequently transferred to the Central Police Divisional Headquarters, and was referred to a lock-up medical doctor for examination on Feb. 4.
The medical report noted that Lee had a slight abrasion over his left foot and a past history of eczema, but concluded that Lee was well, and that "the physical examination was unremarkable".
CNB said that when Lee was released from the lock-up, he signed to acknowledge that he had no complaints.
"Justin was not mistreated in any way," said the CNB release.
Arrested persons are not permitted to retain personal belongings
CNB also addressed Ow's queries on why CNB was unable to give her an estimate of how long the interrogation would take, stating that the duration of interviews and serving of charges varies from case to case, and that it is not possible to provide an estimate to NOKs on the duration required.
For security reasons, arrested persons are not permitted to retain their personal belongings, including mobile devices, when they are admitted into the lock-up, in order to prevent unauthorised communication with others which may jeopardise the investigation, escape by the arrested subject or injury to self or others.
CNB also emphasised that Lee's case was investigated within a reasonable period, and that he was released from custody without delay.
Lee was allowed to make a call to his mother
In addition, CNB said that Lee went through two video-recorded interviews at the Central Police Divisional Headquarters on Feb. 4, 2021.
The first interview was conducted at about 11:45am.
As the 131 LSD stamps were only found at 11:42am, a second video-recorded interview was conducted from about 7:34pm to 8:02pm, during which Lee admitted ownership of the drugs found and that the drugs were meant for sale.
After the second video-recorded interview, Lee was allowed to make a call to Ow at about 8:53pm, and was released on bail to her at about 10:41pm on Feb. 4.
CNB also added that young suspects under investigations, apart from capital cases, will always be released on bail as soon as possible.
Court did not intentionally postpone case
CNB also directly addressed Ow's allegations that the Court had postponed the case a few times to add more stress to Lee, by stating that the prosecution was ready to take the plea on June 24, 2021, when Lee was charged in Court.
According to CNB, it was in fact the defence counsel representing Lee who had requested to adjourn the court mentions four times: first from June 24 to July 22, then to Aug. 19, Sep. 9 and finally to Sep. 23.
Lee did not show any signs of distress
CNB said that Lee was 17 years old at the time of arrest, and during his first video-recorded interview on Feb. 4, 2021, Lee said that he was having depression, and had previously been diagnosed by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).
When CNB applied for a medical report from IMH, the IMH reported stated that Lee was referred in 2020 for low mood and suicidality, and that he was diagnosed with Dysthymia, a form of depression, and that he had been seeing a psychologist regularly.
CNB then proceeded with the first and second video-recorded interviews on Feb. 4, taking into account that he was composed and coherent during the interviews, and that he was able to logically articulate the flow of events, including sharing about his research on drugs and his trafficking modus operandi.
CNB added that he sought clarifications when he wanted to make amendments, and that he was observed not to show signs of distress during the interviews.
"Throughout their interactions with Justin, CNB officers exercised sensitivity and endeavoured to release him on bail as soon as possible. No physical force, nor any abrasive language, were used at any time while he was in CNB’s custody," said the CNB statement.
CNB also said that in subsequent medical reports, there were no allegations of assault, and that the report stated that Lee was stable with no acute issues at the time of consultation, and was not experiencing any hallucinations.
The report also said that Lee did not have any self-harm or suicidal thoughts, and did not report feeling unwell.
CCTV footage showed no mistreatment during Lee's custody
In addition, CNB's internal investigations also showed no mistreatment during the time Lee was in the lock-up.
CCTV footage showed that he was issued with a blanket, and that he was given his meals, including drinks, during his custody in the lock-up in February and June 2021.
During the admission process, he was also informed of his rights to request for these items if he wanted to.
CCTV footage also showed that he was seen doing some stretching, and was in a planking position for about 80 seconds while he was in the lock-up.
He was also observed to have walked around the cell and chatted with other persons-in-custody at different periods.
In response to Ow's allegations that Lee was not allowed to do push-ups to keep himself warm, CCTV footage on June 23 also showed that there were no instances of him trying to do push-ups, nor were there any restrictions imposed on him moving about in the cell.
Drug suspects are given ample access to water
Based on interviews with officers that were involved in the arrest, and those who had contact with Lee during his custody in February and June 2021, CNB said that Lee was not denied water during his time in custody.
In fact, all drug suspects are given ample access to water, in order to be able to provide their urine specimen for drug tests to be conducted.
"This is in contrary to the allegation that he was denied water," said CNB.
Belongings typically only returned at end of court process
In response to Ow's query on why Lee's items were not returned to him upon the closure of investigations, CNB replied that belongings seized for the purpose of investigations are typically returned only at the end of the court process, as they might be required as evidence for the offences.
Summary of internal investigations
According to CNB's internal investigations, Lee was treated professionally and fairly, and was coherent and articulate in his responses throughout the video-recorded interviews.
Lee was subjected to medical examinations on Feb. 4 and June 23 at the lock-up, and on both occasions, the medical doctors did not detect any issues of concern.
CNB's internal investigations also showed that there was no undue delay in the investigation and prosecutorial processes.
"CNB understands that this is a difficult time for Ms Cecilia Ow and will continue to render assistance to her," said CNB.
If you or someone you know are in mental distress, here are some hotlines you can call to seek help, advice, or just a listening ear:
SOS 24-hour Hotline: 1-767
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
Institute of Mental Health: 6389-2222 (24 hours)
Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788 (for primary school-aged children)
Top image via Foursquare and Cecilia Ow's Instagram