A retired police officer who was allegedly punched in the head by Sheku Bayoh has told the inquiry into his death that she believed he exhibited “superhuman strength” by lifting three other officers off the ground as he struggled against their restraint.
Nicole Short, who burst into tears when asked to confirm her name at the start of the day’s proceedings, described being “overwhelmed by terror” as the “frightening” Bayoh came towards her with his fists up.
Bayoh died in handcuffs and sustained multiple injuries after officers responded to calls from the public about a man brandishing a knife and behaving erratically early on a Sunday morning in Kirkcaldy, Fife, in May 2015.
The independent inquiry, under Lord Bracadale and taking place in Edinburgh, is the result of years of campaigning by Bayoh’s family, who believe his death was caused by positional asphyxia because of the tactics used by police. They allege officers overreacted and were motivated by racial bias.
Short, who was questioned on Tuesday about previous statements in which she described the father of two as “deranged”, “hellbent on hurting somebody” and “a frightening crazy man”, told Angela Grahame QC: “I had a genuine belief that he was going to finish me off.”
Asked if Bayoh seemed this way to her because he was black, Short responded: “Absolutely not.”
She said Bayoh had walked away “completely unaffected” after being fired at with CS spray and pepper spray by PC Craig Walker and former PC Alan Paton, the first officers to respond to the incident. She described how she drew her baton at Bayoh who advanced on her with “a boxer’s skip”.
As he closed the distance between them, “instinct kicked in” and she began to run, she told the inquiry. “I just remember feeling this almighty blow to the back of my head ... I tried to stay on my feet but I just couldn’t,” she said. Short, who is 5ft 1in and weighed 44kg (7st) at the time, said she “curled up into a ball” on the ground.
She told the inquiry that it was only later, when the officers involved in Bayoh’s arrest congregated in the staff canteen, that colleagues told her they believed she had been knocked unconscious and had seen Bayoh “stamping and kicking” her. She had no memory of this herself.
Short was led through statements from examining doctors who did not find bruising on her torso and did not diagnose concussion. She described seeking medical advice in the subsequent days with concerns about headache and swelling to the side of her face.
After she retreated to a police van, Short said she then saw Bayoh in a “press-up position” and “lifting” three male colleagues on top of him.
On Friday, Walker said the restraint began after he witnessed Bayoh make a “full-force stamp” on Short. She recalled: “I remember thinking this was three of the biggest guys on the shift ...it was like nothing I’d ever seen before in my life.”
Agreeing that Bayoh’s behaviour led her to believe he might have been under the influence of drink or drugs, Short was then asked by Grahame if she had considered containing him or calling an ambulance. She responded: “There was no way of containing him,” adding her primary concern was for public safety following “numerous calls” about a man with a knife.
Asked if she had attended an incident with a black man before, Short replied: “I don’t think I had,” but added: “His race had nothing to do with how we handled the call.”
In an opening statement to the inquiry, Short said she had retired from the force after sustaining physical and psychological injuries from the incident.
The inquiry continues.