Justin Lee ‘treated professionally and fairly’ during drug probe: CNB

·Editorial Team
·5-min read
Central Narcotics Bureau logo. (Screenshot: CNB website)
Central Narcotics Bureau logo. (Screenshot: CNB website)

SINGAPORE — The 17-year-old boy who died following a fall from height after he was charged over suspected drug offences was “treated professionally and fairly” during investigations, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) said on Friday (22 October).

In a follow-up to its previous statement on 13 October, CNB gave details on Justin Lee’s arrest and the subsequent investigations against him, up to the point of CNB’s last contact with him on 23 June, and its communications with his mother Cecilia Ow.

The statements by CNB come after Ow made several allegations online about her son's encounter in a four-page letter issued to Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam.

"I do not deny that 'Justin' committed an offence. And I know that the CNB officers were doing their jobs," said Ow.

But "the stress of the oppressive police entrapment, interrogation, and prosecution, waiting indefinitely for an outcome" – a legal process meant for adult offenders – "broke him and killed him", Ow added.

The Singapore Police Force (SPF) started investigations into Justin’s death following his fall from height on 16 September. The cause of death was determined to be multiple injuries from a fall from height. Toxicology tests showed there were traces of the Class A controlled drug LSD and Nitrazepam in Justin’s urine and blood, CNB said.

In January, CNB conducted investigations into Justin who was openly advertising LSD stamps for sale on a messaging app. Justin was arrested on 3 February at Serangoon North Ave 4. Investigations found that 131 LSD stamps belonged to Justin and he admitted that they were meant for sale, and had also abused LSD stamps.

During his arrest, Justin was compliant and did not put up any struggle. The officers held on to him while he was handcuffed, and escorted to various locations for investigations.

Nine CNB officers were deployed for a follow-up anti-drug operation at Justin’s place of residence at Hougang Street 22 on the same day of his arrest. Six of them entered his house to conduct a search upon being granted permission by Ow who was present.

Justin was later escorted to the CNB Enforcement Office at Bedok Police Divisional Headquarters after the search.

“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. In this case, Justin spoke with Ms Cecilia Ow after the search,” CNB said.

Justin was subsequently transferred to the Central Police Divisional Headquarters, and was referred for a medical checkup on 4 February. When he was released from the lock-up, he signed to acknowledge that he had no complaints. “Justin was not mistreated in any way,” CNB said.

No delay in probe or release from custody

It is not possible to provide an estimate to NOK on the duration required for interviews in cases as they vary, according to CNB. For security reasons, arrested persons are not allowed to retain their belongings including mobile devices when they are admitted into the lock-up.

For young suspects under investigations and not facing capital cases, CNB ensures that they are released on bail as soon as possible.

Justin was allowed to make a call to Ow at about 8.53pm on 4 February, and was released on bail to her at about 10.41pm.

Following further investigations, and after the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) directed in June that Justin be charged for drug trafficking offences, he was asked to report to CNB headquarters on 23 June. Justin was admitted into the lock-up at CNB on that day.

In view of his age, CNB released Justin on bail after serving the charges on him, and allowed him to report to court the next day. He was charged in court on 24 June and released on court bail.

“Regarding the allegations that the court had postponed the case a few times which added more stress to Justin, the prosecution was ready to take the plea on 24 June 2021 when Justin was charged in court. It was the defence counsel representing Justin who had requested to adjourn the court mentions four times,” CNB said.

CNB conducted two video-recorded interviews on 4 February with Justin, during one of which Justin said he was having depression and had previously been diagnosed by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).

“He was composed and coherent during the interviews, and was able to logically articulate the flow of events…He was observed not to show signs of distress during the interviews.”

The CNB investigation officer also applied for a medical report from IMH.

“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.”

In subsequent medical reports issued and clarifications with doctors, there were no allegations of assault, CNB added.

No mistreatment during custody

Internal investigations showed no mistreatment while Justin was in the lock-up, CNB said.

On 4 February, he was seen in CCTV footage doing some stretching and planking while he was in the lock-up, and was not stopped by officers on duty.

CCTV footage also showed that on 23 June, there were no instances of him trying to do push-ups, nor were there any movement restrictions imposed on him in the cell. “This is contrary to allegations that he was not allowed to do push-ups to keep himself warm,” CNB said.

Based on interviews with officers involved, Justin was not denied water during his time in custody.

CNB said it has been engaging Ow since 20 September. The senior officer-in-charge of the investigation team had returned her call on the same day while CNB’s Deputy Director also contacted her the next day.

"Based on the investigation findings, Justin was treated professionally and fairly. He was coherent and articulate in his responses throughout the video-recorded interviews. Justin was subjected to medical examinations on 4 February and 23 June 2021 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."

If you are feeling distressed, you can call SOS' 24-hour hotline at 1767 (1-SOS). You can also email pat@sos.org.sg.

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