Czech court acquits police officer, says use of force against Romani harvester was legal, state to appeal
The use by police of a collapsible truncheon against a harvester of legally-grown technical hemp from a field in the Česká Lípa district was not criminal, according to a court in Česká Lípa that acquitted the officer on 14 June. The defendant had faced up to five years in prison for abusing his powers.
State prosecutor Martin Tvrdík had proposed the defendant be given a suspended sentence and immediately appealed the ruling. The 36-year-old officer denied having proceeded illegally.
Judge Milan Vencl agreed. "I did not arrive at the conclusion that this use of force contravened the Police Act," the judge said.
The incident happened on 29 September 2015, when Romani temporary laborers were harvesting technical hemp - which does not contain the psychoactive agent THC - from a field in the village of Písečná u Dobranova. Six officers drove to the scene at the request of a colleague in the Criminal Police to ascertain whether what was being harvested was in fact marijuana.
The indicted officer, according to the prosecutor, first grabbed a 41-year-old Romani laborer by the throat for no reason. When the harvester verbally objected and pushed back at the officer, the officer then struck the laborer six times on the head, on the upper part of his body, and across the legs with the truncheon.
Eventually the officer kicked the man, bringing him to the ground, and then handcuffed him with the aid of another police colleague. The state prosecutor insists the indicted officer is guilty of abusing his powers.
"I am of the opinion that there was enough evidence here to demonstrate guilt," the prosecutor said. A video camera mounted on the police car recorded the course of the incident.
"In that video it is apparent that the harvesters obeyed the instructions given them," the prosecutor said. The officer, on the other hand, defended himself by alleging the intervention had been justified because the harvester had allegedly refused to do what the officer said and allegedly behaved aggressively toward him.
"I am sorry how far this has gone on the basis of false information," the officer testified to the court. He denied having aimed his blows at the man's head.
Moreover, the officer alleged that the blows had not been forceful. He was supported by an expert witness in the field of criminology, Zdeněk Náchodský.
According to the expert, the officers proceeded correctly. The expert said the harvester was to blame for the incident.
"[The harvester] pushed an intervening officer, he used force against him," Náchodský said. Aiming the truncheon at the harvester's head, as the indictment described on the basis of the video evidence, was also something the expert contested.
"The officer used that truncheon with foresight and without any emotion. He aimed his blows at locations where the person would not suffer serious injury," the expert said.
Náchodský said he was surprised the case had ended up in court at all, and defense attorney Josef Kopřiva said the same thing after the verdict was announced. "This entire proceeding, from our perspective, should have been closed long ago," the defense attorney said.
The state prosecutor's closing remarks stated that the intervention need never have happened and that the police maneuvers at the technical hemp field had been unnecessary. "That activity was allowed and had been properly announced to the authorities," the prosecutor said.
The judge agreed with that point. "It is odd that the state bodies are not able to communicate with each other," he noted.
However, according to the judge, the defendant was not to blame for that aspect of what happened. During the incident the harvester's son, who was just 17 at the time, also suffered injuries after he verbally objected to the intervention against his father.
When the son took a step forward, other officers used pepper spray against him and then handcuffed him. None of those officers have been indicted.
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