Ricardo dos Santos: IOPC to review case after armed Met police stop athlete

·4 min read

The police watchdog is to review how an athlete who has been repeatedly pulled over was stopped again, this time by seven armed officers, as he considers taking legal action.

Ricardo dos Santos, a Portuguese sprinter based in London, said he released video of the incident in central London on Sunday morning to show that young black people continued to face “over-policing”. He said he feared for his safety during the stop – his third in the last two years.

The Metropolitan police said it had referred his complaint to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). His spokesperson told the Guardian he was taking legal advice on whether he could sue the force.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live, Dos Santos said nothing had changed since he and his partner, the British sprinter Bianca Williams, were stopped and handcuffed by the police in July 2020 in what they allege was an incidence of racial profiling.

Stop-and-search controversies were cited in June as one of the many scandals that led to the Met being placed under special measures by the police inspectorate.

Dos Santos said: “My intention was purely for people to understand that even though the police have been put on special measures nothing has, or is, going to change.” He added: “My worry is that it is never going to stop. If people don’t talk about [it] especially people with a platform and a voice, it’s not going to stop.”

In a statement on Monday, the Met said: “We have now recorded this matter as a public complaint. We have also referred it on a voluntary basis to the Independent Office for Police Conduct, recognising the public interest. We await their views on how they may wish to take this forward.”

Dos Santos said his previous encounters led him to drive on to a more visible place when the police initially tried to flag him down on the M40 flyover in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Defending his decision not to stop immediately, he said: “The flyover is pretty dark … For my safety and based on my previous incidents with them, I thought that the best place to stop would be somewhere lit up and with the possibility of witnesses. I didn’t fail to stop, I stopped where it’s safe to do so.”

He added: “I was worried for my safety, because two years ago I also did nothing wrong. And I was dragged out of my car, and basically set upon by police officers.”

When he stopped, five minutes later, Dos Santos was approached by seven armed officers in three police vehicles. He said the officers acted aggressively. One appeared to try to smash the window of his Tesla, and another tried to prevent him from walking in front of the car where he could be filmed by the vehicle’s dashcam, Dos Santos claimed.

He said: “That whole environment of being set upon, I believe it was over-policing.”

Police said a routine armed patrol called for further assistance after the car initially failed to stop on request.

The Met confirmed Dos Santos was stopped over a suspicion that he was using a mobile phone at the wheel. He was allowed to go after a discussion with officers. Dos Santos said he showed officers his phone to prove he had not been using it. He said he stayed “as calm as possible”. He added: “It’s happened many times. So it’s my norm.”

He said he did not deliberately film the incident, pointing out that his car recorded footage automatically. He said that after the incident in 2020 when his family was stopped driving a Mercedes with blacked-out windows, they decided to change vehicles. “I thought a family car would stand out a lot less,” he said.

He said the car’s cameras made him feel safer, and one of the officers stopped behaving aggressively after being told the car had a camera. Dos Santos said: “You act differently when you know you’re being recorded.”

Dos Santos has refused an invitation by the Met, posted on Twitter, to discuss the matter. He said: “I have passed it on to my lawyer. I’m not going to have direct contact with them.”

After posting video of the incident on Twitter, Dos Santos has been criticised on the platform for failing to initially stop.

Several anonymous accounts claiming to represent police officers were among those criticising Dos Santos. One post, purportedly written by a former firearms officer, accused him of trying to “bait police to pursue anti-police agenda”.

Dos Santos said: “I don’t let the comments affect me. Everyone on social media debating what should have or shouldn’t have happened.”