Czech Deputy Public Defender of Rights: Police ignored whether the man they restrained was even alive, ambulance called too late
During last year's intervention in Teplice, Czech Republic after which a Romani man, Mr Stanislav Tomáš, died, police officers made several mistakes, such as waiting too long to call an ambulance, according to Deputy Public Defender of Rights Monika Šimůnková, who has also found contradictions between the testimonies of the emergency medical responders and the police. The Office of the Public Defender of Rights released her conclusions on its website yesterday.
Šimůnková had already previously informed the public about her review of the police procedure and now she has closed it. The police in Teplice intervened against the man who had been behaving aggressively and who died shortly after their intervention.
The police found no connection between their intervention and the death, according to the final autopsy report. The Czech News Agency is waiting for police to comment on the Deputy Public Defender of Rights' final conclusions.
The intervention happened in mid-June last year when two men on foot were reported as engaged in a struggle that was causing damage to other people's parked cars. One of the men, aged 46, died after police used force against him.
From amateur video footage that was taken at the scene and published online, it is clear that the police knelt on the man's neck for several minutes. The matter was also examined by the General Inspection of the Security Corps (GIBS), which concluded that the police officers' behavior did not rise to the level of a felony and that it had not been proven that their intervention was related to the death, the cause of which was, according to an expert forensic opinion, heart failure resulting from intoxication with methamphetamine.
Šimůnková began dealing with the matter on her own initiative, focusing on the legality of the police procedure and the adequacy of their use of coercive means. In her final opinion, she describes having called on the Police Director of the Ústecký Regional Police Directorate to re-evaluate the intervention by police and to take into account the conclusions of her investigation.
According to her, however, the police insisted on their own original conclusions despite what her investigation discovered. Šimůnková has now turned to the Police Presidium as the supervising body and informed the Police President about her findings.
“The use of coercive means was appropriate in this situation. However, I consider it alarming that the police officers never monitored the man's vital signs and did not interrupt their procedure even when he stopped showing signs of life," she summarized her conclusions.
"Because the collapse of the person was not noticed by police during their procedure, they never began providing first aid themselves. This is unacceptable," Šimůnková said.
According to the Deputy Public Defender of Rights, as a result of failing to notice that the man no longer showed signs of life, the police officers called for an ambulance several minutes later than they should have. “As is clear from the video, the medical assistance could have been summoned by the police officers about three minutes earlier, and during their procedure, the police did not sufficiently check on the state of [the arrestee]," the final opinion states.
"He was prone on his abdomen and knelt on for some time, and then after he calmed down (and collapsed) he was left in that position with his hands bound behind his back. According to expert opinions, this position is problematic, as it may cause positional asphyxia (suffocation when the body is in a certain position) and it requires police officers to check on the person's breathing and consciousness to prevent choking and collapse in those targeted by such a procedure," reads the final opinion of the Deputy Public Defender of Rights.
"Such a person should be moved out of such a position as soon as possible,” the final opinion states. Šimůnková says the autopsy outcome, which has ruled out a causal link between the intervention by the police and the death of the man, does not change her own conclusions.
"Police officers must always proceed in such a way as to preserve the health and the life of the person against whom they use force. In this case they did not, in my opinion, proceed that way," she summarized.
The Deputy Public Defender of Rights also warned the Police President that in the Teplice case, in her view, the internal control mechanism of the police did not work correctly; according to her, during the initial phase of their internal monitoring, the police officers from the inspection department failed to include the testimony of the emergency responders who first arrived on the scene in their report. The inspectors did not obtain that testimony for their own investigation until the Deputy Public Defender of Rights notified them that it was missing.
However, the police evaluation of the procedure was not changed by including the testimonies of those health care professionals, even though they are fundamentally different from the description of the situation given by the intervening police officers. According to the emergency medical responders, the man showed no signs of life at the time of their arrival, had no tangible pulse, and had dilated pupils.
The intervening police officers, however, testified that the man got up and walked to the gurney to be put in the ambulance under his own steam. “The testimony from the emergency medical responders contradicts the police testimony," the Deputy Public Defender of Rights said.
"At the same time, one of the intervening police officers was wearing a camera which, however, was never turned on throughout the entire procedure, without sufficient justification, in my view. The Regional Police headquarters has not responded to the contradiction between these testimonies," the Deputy Public Defender of Rights reports.
"For them to proceed this way in the face of basic evidence can greatly harm people's trust in independent internal control mechanisms and in police work as such,” the Deputy Public Defender of Rights said of her conclusions. Several demonstrations were held last year after the man's death, and a full investigation of the event was called for by a number of organizations both abroad and domestically.
The police have refused any blame for the man's death since the beginning, saying he had been aggressive toward them, assaulted them, and that they therefore used force. The attending physician stated preliminarily that the cause of death was drug overdose, and the autopsy later confirmed that.
According to the final autopsy report, there was no connection between the police officers' use of force and the death of the man, the police said at the end of October 2021. The bereaved family's lawyer, Maroš Matiaško, has questioned the conclusions drawn by the police and intends to contact the Czech Constitutional Court for its view of the case.
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