Czech police officer who brutally assaulted Romani workers now on trial
On 14 February 2018 a 36-year-old police officer went on trial before the District Court in Česká Lípa, accused of abusing the powers of a public official. According to the indictment, he used a collapsible metal truncheon to beat a 41-year-old man who was harvesting legal technical cannabis in September 2015 in Písečná u Dobranova.
The police officer faces between one and five years in prison if convicted. The member of the local patrol service has rejected the charges.
The defendant testified that he behaved according to his training and considers his intervention to have been proportionate. The trial was scheduled to continue on Thursday with eyewitness testimonies.
The incident happened on 29 September 2015 when Romani temporary workers were harvesting technical cannabis, which does not contain the psychoactive material THC, in a field in Písečná. The officer defended his actions to the court by saying that at the time he did not know it was possible to cultivate cannabis legally.
He visited the scene upon the request of his colleagues in the criminal police to verify that marijuana was being harvested. Several other officers whom he was coordinating arrived with him at the field.
On the scene, according to the defendant, he saw several people sitting whom be recognized. "Criminal activity had been addressed with them in the past," he said.
The officer said he viewed the people as being in good condition physically. For that reason, he instructed them to walk to the place where a tent had been pitched, put everything down that they were holding, and raise their hands above their heads.
The defendant testified that the harvesters did not follow his instructions, telling him that they were not doing anything illegal. After he pulled out his collapsible truncheon, they all obeyed him except for one.
The assaulted harvester and his son, who was also in the field, described the incident to the court differently. They had been eating a snack during their break when the officers drove up.
They testified that when they were told to put everything down and stand facing the police vehicle, they responded by going to the place indicated. "I obeyed, although I did so slowly," the assaulted harvester said.
The assaulted harvester's son said everything happened very fast and that the officers did not even wait for them to make it to the car. According to the indictment, the officer grabbed the seated harvester by the neck and got him to his feet.
The indictment charges that when the harvester verbally objected to this treatment, the officer grabbed him again and struck him six times with his truncheon in the head, the upper part of his body and across his legs. In the end the officer kicked the harvester to the ground and then he and a colleague handcuffed him.
The defendant described the situation differently in court. He alleged that the harvester stood up on his own just before he got to him.
The officer had not known whether the man was planning to attack him or not, and therefore he used force, the so-called pushing tactic. He perceived the harvester's subsequent behavior as resistance and an assault on his person, and therefore he used his truncheon.
The defendant rejected the allegation that he had aimed his blows at the harvester's head. He also asserted that the blows had not been forceful.
"I used fast, swinging blows that aimed not to harm but to destabilize," the officer said. According to the indictment he caused the harvester hematomas and slight injuries to his head, back, arms and legs.
The harvester testified that he never assaulted anybody. He does not have much recollection of the police intervention by now.
The victim just recalled being pushed when he turned his back to the officers as instructed. Then he was beaten with a truncheon and received more blows when he was prone on the ground.
The harvester said the blows to his head were delivered when he was prone. He believes somebody kicked him at that point instead of using the truncheon.
The son of the harvester, who was 17 at the time, testified that he suffered slight injuries during the incident after objecting verbally to the intervention against his father. When he took a step forward, other officers used pepper spray on him and then handcuffed him; none of them have been indicted.
Police officers' brutal intervention was against Romani harvesters only
According to an eyewitness to the intervention, Radek Honzátko, who spoke with news server Romea.cz, the police officers delivered a brutal intervention in September 2015 during which they proceeded aggressively just against the Romani workers there. Honzátko, the only non-Romani worker in the field, was handled by the officers with restraint and allowed to move about freely.
Honzátko said the police officers used a collapsible truncheon and tear gas against the Romani workers, including a minor temporary worker who was attempting to defend his own father. "I was about 100 meters away from the place where the intervention happened. Suddenly I heard shouting and saw how other Romani people were running from the field toward that place to aid the two who were being 'pacified' by the police, so I ran over there too. At that moment I saw an officer pushing the guy's head into the ground with his boot. The police did not assault me, they were only dealing with the Romani people. I moved about among the officers, walked among them and did my best to calm the situation. In the meantime the other Romani people were kept nearby," he told news server Romea.cz.
"The police were very nervous. The Romani people behaved normally, they never attacked anybody. I can testify that there was no aggression from the Romani people. The grandmother of the guy whose head was being stepped on by one of the officers shouted at the police to leave him alone, that was all. I know those people, they are not aggressive people against whom it would have been necessary to intervene like that," Honzátko told news server Romea.cz at the time.
While the Inspector General of the Security Forces (GIBS) charged the police officer with abusing his powers on 9 June 2016, he continues to serve on the force. The regional police director will decide whether he will continue to serve after the eventual verdict against him takes effect.
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