Czech Republic: Romani driver hospitalized after police tried to stop him filming them with his phone
On Saturday, 5 November 2016 at around noon an incident occurred between the Romani driver of a personal vehicle and police officers who pulled him over at the Máj housing estate in the city of České Budějovice. After the driver attempted to use his mobile phone to film one of the officers during the inspection, a tussle ensued over the phone and the Romani man was then forced to lie down on the ground, where he was handcuffed.
The Romani man was later hospitalized with a bruised neck and suspected concussion. He alleges that he committed no crime and believes the officers stopped him and then brutally pacified him because they single out Romani drivers against whom to intervene.
The police reject the allegations that the intervention was not standard, but the case is being investigted by the Internal Audit Department. The Romani man was driving to the store with his wife and five-year-old son on Saturday when the three-member police patrol pulled him over.
Police asked for his identification and that he show them the legally-required equipment of his vehicle, but allegedly did not tell the Romani driver what misdemeanor they believed he had committed. Jiří Matzner, spokesperson for the Regional Directorate of the South Bohemian Regional Police, told news server Romea.cz that the reason the car was stopped was that the child was not properly strapped in to the car seat.
"He did not have the child who was in the vehicle correctly strapped in, and then he did not show his car insurance documents. During communication with the police officers and the rest of the process the driver began to be aggressive, he began to curse the officers, verbally assaulted them, did not respond to their instructions, and essentially thwarted any proper consideration of his transgressions. The officers had no choice but to arrest him," Matzner said.
The Romani man admits that he became agitated by what he alleges was the officers' unclear procedure during the traffic stop, but asserts that he did not behave aggressively and only said one curse word. The situation escalated when he wanted to film one particular officer and the identification number on his uniform.
News server Romea.cz has the mobile phone recording, which covers almost two minutes of the intervention, which reportedly lasted roughly half an hour. It can be heard from the audio that the man is arguing with the officers about what he is required to show them, and his voice gives the impression that he is irritated.
When the Romani man approaches one of the officers to film his identification number, the officer can be heard to say that he won't let himself be filmed, and it can be seen that he pushes the hand holding the phone away. The Romani man alleges that the officer whom he was filming prevented him from continuing by grabbing him by his coat and pushing him to the ground, where he knelt on top of him and handcuffed him.
"I couldn't breathe when he was kneeling on me and I fainted for a moment," the driver told news server Romea.cz. "When I came to, I heard the officer say I was a wanted person, but that's not true. Everybody knows that officer focuses on local Romani people and is fixated on us. Whenever he sees a 'Gypsy' behind the wheel, he immediately stops to provoke him."
Matzner confirmed that filming how officers proceed while addressing misdemeanors is a rather common practice that any citizen has the right to do, and also alleged that officers are used to being filmed. News server Romea.cz, of course, has video footage available that clearly shows the conflict did not escalate until the driver began to use his mobile phone to flm how the officers were dealing with his alleged misdemeanor.
According to information acquired by news server Romea.cz, there have been many similar cases in which the police officer involved in the traffic stop described here has also played a role. "As part of this case we communicated with the Romani coordinators at the Máj housing estate and during that communication the name [of the officer] came up. Nevertheless, we have no other signals that something might not be in order with that officer. However, we are investigating his actions and behavior in the standard way," Matzner said.
The case is currently being dealt with by the Internal Audit Department and witnesses to the entire incident are also being sought. The assaulted Romani man has filed a complaint with the Inspector-General of the Security Forces.
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