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Czech Deputy Public Defender of Rights finds police officers made significant errors in the controversial arrest of Stanislav Tomáš

13.12.2021 16:58
Czech Deputy Public Defender of Rights Monika Šimůnková (inset) and a still from the bystander video of the police intervention in Teplice on 19 June 2021. (PHOTO:  Facebook)
Czech Deputy Public Defender of Rights Monika Šimůnková (inset) and a still from the bystander video of the police intervention in Teplice on 19 June 2021. (PHOTO: Facebook)

Czech Deputy Public Defender of Rights Monika Šimůnková has found that police officers made three errors when intervening in June in Teplice against Stanislav Tomáš, the Romani community member who was declared dead after that arrest - for example, the police did not call an ambulance to the scene in a timely way. Šimůnková also found the Ústecký Regional Police Directorate made errors during their investigation of the police procedure as well.     

Those are the findings of a report investigating the police intervention published online today by the Office of the Public Defender of Rights. After police arrested Mr Tomáš, he passed away later that day. 

Šimůnková said she has not yet definitively closed her investigation. The Czech News Agency is ascertaining the police response to her findings.

"In this investigation, which I launched on my own initiative, I concentrated on the lawfulness of the approach taken by police and the proportionality of their use of force. My investigation does not supplant the criminal justice authorities' procedures in this matter in any respect," the Deputy Public Defender of Rights said. 

According to Šimůnková, the intervening officers erred by waiting as long as three minutes before calling an ambulance upon arriving on the scene, even though the necessity of providing medical treatment to Mr Tomáš was apparent to them from the moment they got there. None of the officers monitored Mr Tomáš's state of health during the arrest.  

It was not ascertained in a timely fashion that Mr Tomáš had stopped displaying signs of life. Šimůnková considers that to be a violation of the principle of proportionality and a violation of the duty to make sure the methods of restraint used do not cause damage of a kind that would be obviously disproportionate to the character and dangerousness of the illegal behavior committed. 

The Deputy Public Defender of Rights sees the third error as consisting of the fact that after Mr Tomáš collapsed, officers failed to remove his handcuffs and did not begin to immediately resuscitate him themselves. The Ústecký Regional Police Directorate then made errors, according to Šimůnková, when during their own internal investigation of the incident they did not fully investigate the facts, neglecting to remedy the absence of any statements in their investigation from the crew of the first emergency rescue vehicle responding to the scene, statements that are of crucial importance for the evaluation of the police officers' procedure, according to the Deputy Public Defender of Rights. 

Šimůnková found a fundamental contradiction between the statements of the police and the paramedics, whereby the responding paramedic claims Mr Tomáš collapsed directly on the sidewalk, while the police from the beginning have claimed he did not collapse until he was placed in the ambulance. "My colleague and I arrived at that address at 15:11. [...] His hands were cuffed behind his back. The officers were pinning him to the ground just by one arm so that he wouldn't run away. When I approached the patient, I ascertained that he was lying on his abdomen, making no noise, and I checked his carotid artery, but no pulse could be felt. At that moment the patient's circulatory system had stopped, i.e., he was not breathing. Subsequently I insisted he immediately be placed on a stretcher and put into the ambulance," the Deputy Public Defender of Rights quotes the responding EMT as testifying. 

The testimony of a police officer is also quoted who described the situation after the emergency medical services arrived as follows: "Subsequently, the EMS crew brought a stretcher from the rear of the EMS vehicle, which they delivered to the man, who was lying prone where police officer 2 and police officer 3 were waiting. Then police officer 2, together with one member of the emergency services, moved said man from the lying position to the sitting position, when police officer 2 and the member of the emergency services supported said man beneath his underarms and helped him to his own feet. The man rose from the ground on his own, although he was sluggish, so he was further supported beneath his armpits by police officer 2 and a member of the EMS crew. Subsequently, the man sat down on the stretcher when policeman 3 helped him lift his legs off the ground so he could be correctly positioned. The emergency services crew then took charge of the man to perform other tasks when he was transported to the emergency services vehicle."  

This means the police claim Mr Tomáš was able, after the arrival of the ambulance, to get to his own feet and then recline on the stretcher himself. The paramedic claims Mr Tomáš was lying on the sidewalk and no longer breathing.

"The officers intervening committed errors by not calling the emergency services until three minutes after their arrival even though the necessity of medical treatment was apparent to them from the beginning given the man's state of health (under the influence of an addictive substance and blood flowing from his mouth); none of the officers checked his state of health and none of the officers ever ascertained in a timely way that he had stopped showing signs of life, which violates the principle of proportionality in Section 11 of the Act on the Police of the Czech Republic and is a violation of the duty under Section 53 paragraph 5 of the Act on the Police of the Czech Republic to ensure that methods of restraint do not cause damage that is obviously disproportionate to the character and dangerousness of the illegal activity committed; and lastly, after the man's collapse, his handcuffs were not removed and police did not immediately begin to resuscitate him on their own. The Ústecký Regional Police Directorate committed errors during their internal investigation of this incident by failing to sufficiently describe the facts, absolutely ignoring the absence of testimony from the crew of the first emergency response vehicle (ERV) to respond, which is of essential importance to assessing the police procedure, as that testimony contains information about the man's state of health testifying to his collapse prior to the arrival of the first ERV. Failing to include the ambulance crew's testimony could eventually lead to the requirements of an effective investigation not being met," states the report.

The officers intervened in Teplice on that day in June after being called to respond to two men who were brawling in the street and causing damage to other people's parked vehicles. Mr Tomáš, who was 46 years old, died shortly after his arrest.  

From an amateur bystander video made of the arrest it is apparent that the officers kneeled on the Romani man's neck for several minutes while arresting him. The security forces have repeatedly rejected the idea that they are at all to blame for his death, stating that he was aggressive towards them, assaulted them, and that they then used force to restrain him. 

The autopsy, according to police, did not reveal signs of injury to any organs, or signs of choking, and they conclude that the deceased had methamphetamine in his system and died of heart failure. Several demonstrations were held over the death and those participating in them clearly were of the opinion that the police committed wrongdoing.  

The case drew attention beyond the Czech Republic as well. The intervening officers were backed by Czech Police President Jan Švejdar, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO), and Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamáček (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD), which the bereaved family said they considered scandalous because their support for the police was expressed before any investigations had been completed.   

The General Inspectorate of the Security Forces previously announced that it did not yet see the officers' behavior as rising to the level of a felony and would not be opening a criminal proceedings in the case. The Council of Europe and the Czech branch of the human rights organization Amnesty International have called for a thorough investigation of the incident, with AI calling the police intervention brutal and illegal. 

ČTK, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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death after police intervention, Monika Šimůnková, Roma, Teplice



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