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Czech state prosecutors fail to prosecute shooting of Romani man

Prague, 19.7.2012 21:25, (ROMEA)
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The state prosecutor has announced its first findings in one of the many violent criminal cases from the last six months involving Romani victims. The conclusions are prompting doubts as to the impartiality of the investigation.

During the past six months, the Czech Republic has seen the violent deaths of at least five Romani people under circumstances that have yet to be clarified. Last December, a Romani man who suffered from a severe form of schizophrenia died after police intervened against him in his Děčín apartment. The New Year began with the shooting to death of Ladislav Tatár, Jr and the wounding of his brother Patrik in Tanvald. A homeless Romani woman was beaten and kicked to death by a local youth in the Jarov quarter of Prague, also in January. At the end of April, in the Silesian town of Chotěbuz, a local man shot dead a Romani father of two using a crossbow. Ľudovít Kašpar, a father of three and the most recent Romani victim for now, passed away at the start of May at the age of 33 after local police officers intervened against him in the town of Kynšperk nad Ohří.

This unusually high number of Romani people dying violent deaths during such a brief period of time cannot be considered accidental. The demonstrations against Romani people in Břeclav and Šluknov have exacerbated the atmosphere in Czech society. People are taking some sort of imaginary justice into their own hands. They are tolerating intolerance of Romani people and are inclined to show clemency toward the perpetrators of crimes that target Romani people.

These events are just the epiphenomena of the increasingly frequent manifestations of racism and xenophobia throughout all of Europe, which is being tyrannized by the economic crisis and uncertain prospects for the future. In the Czech Republic, willingness to stand up to this is weak. The demonstration convened by the Hate is No Solution (Nenávist není řešení) initiative on 23 June in Sokolov in order to call for the proper clarification of the death of Ľudovít Kašpar ended up as a sheer debacle. It was not attended by the media, by most of the Romani people themselves, or by the wider public.

Of these cases, we only know the results of the investigation into the Tanvald incident so far. It must be said right away that the impression given by those results is embarrassing at the very least. The Liberec branch of the Regional State Prosecutor issued a resolution in Ústí nad Labem on 7 June postponing the prosecution of this case of grievous bodily harm resulting in death, allegedly committed on 1 January by Jan Sieber when he shot Ladislav Tatár, Jr. to death and wounded Ladislav's brother Patrik using a legally held weapon.

The state prosecutor has decided this incident did not constitute a felony, but was a case of necessary self-defense. Unfortunately, the reasoning in the resolution prompts the suspicion that the facts are being intentionally manipulated to benefit the shooter. The resolution may, in fact, constitute a direct instruction on how to slaughter Romani people with impunity.

The state prosecutor's conclusions contradict the evidence, the facts determined, and the witnesses' testimonies. Let's review them.

The state prosecutor is basing its findings on the testimony of an eyewitness, Petr Prouza (who is not Romani). Prouza initially testified that he saw the suspect, Jan Sieber, and the shooting victim, Ladislav Tatár, Jr., standing face to dace during a verbal exchange. They then wrestled one another to the ground, after which three shots rang out. Prouza later changed his testimony to say the men had been facing one another, but that he was not able to determine who pushed who to the ground. After being asked another "clarifying" question, he said that actually he had only seen the men after they had fallen and were fighting, not at the moment when they were standing face to face.

None of the versions of this eyewitness testimony necessarily support a conclusion based on Sieber's claim that the incident was one of necessary self-defense because he had been unfairly attacked from behind. Did direct pressure to change the eyewitness testimony play a role here, or merely the concern that whoever stands on the side of Romani people will be considered a "race traitor" by the militant part of the majority society?

The state prosecutor has not dealt with the discrepancies in Prouza's testimony at all, but has accepted wholesale Jan Sieber's version of what took place. The evidence is said to be a bloody injury to Sieber's head, which allegedly could only have been caused by a blow from behind, as well as a knife found at the scene of the crime. Traces of DNA - not fingerprints - belonging to Ladislav Tatár, Jr. were found on the knife's grip.

According to the medical report, however, Sieber's injury was located on his temple, above the left earlobe - not on the back of his head. It could, therefore, have been caused just as well during a frontal attack in which the victim reflexively tried to ward off a blow. Despite the intensive bleeding, there were no traces of blood on the knife allegedly used. Moreover, according to one expert evaluation, DNA traces of at least three people were found on the knife's grip.

Another discrepancy concerns the injury suffered by the shooting victim's brother. The hospital's release report confirms that Patrik Tatár was shot in the lower intercostal space, in the anterior section on the right-hand side, just above the level of the navel. The conclusion of the state prosecutor that the shot was aimed to the right and up (from the victim's point of view) does not correspond to the locations of his injuries. On the contrary, the injuries recorded confirm Patrik Tatár's testimony that the suspect aimed the pistol at him at close range when he was kneeling by his brother.

We can also ask why the suspect did not just shoot his alleged assailants in the feet, since he was evidently an experienced marksman who must have been aware of the effectiveness of shooting a person in the feet in order to ward off an attack undertaken with punches or kicks. Moreover, from a prone position, he could have very easily shot the feet of either Ladislav or Patrik Tatár.

Other doubts are prompted by what has been forgotten about in the resolution. There is no specific listing of the weapons Jan Sieber had on him after police arrived at the scene. If he had also been armed with some kind of defensive spray, or an electric stun gun, then the claims of necessary self-defense using a firearm would not hold up.

It is also startling that even though everything negative that was found has taken into consideration with respect to the victim - including school records about his allegedly impulsive behavior - Sieber's two previous criminal convictions have been downplayed. It is usually standard practice, in the case of a repeat offender, to list the specific crimes of which a suspect has been previously convicted, even though such convictions are otherwise considered discharged for civilian purposes once time has been served. Instead, the record only lists that he has not committed a misdemeanor during the past five years.

In the town of Tanvald, Jan Sieber has the reputation of an uncompromising person who suspects local Romani people of stealing his property and who is prepared to use weapons against them during confrontations. According to the father of the victims, Sieber once shot an air gun at some 15-year-old Romani boys when they drove past his plot of land on a motorbike. That fact would, under normal circumstances, lead to the commissioning of a psychological or psychiatric evaluation of the suspect to clarify whether he would be capable of using a weapon even in situations that did not call for it.

The victims' attorney has filed a complaint against this resolution, so far to no effect. When we ask questions such as "How far does our willingness to reconcile ourselves to the predominant racial prejudice and to tolerate various forms of discrimination go?", or "Can we even believe the justice system, the police, and the state in general?", pessimistic answers offer themselves. Not letting a case go to trial and sequestering it away during the preliminary phase has unfortunately become the usual practice among those manipulating criminal proceedings, as we saw from the example of the Čunek case.

This piece was reprinted with the kind consent of the author from the magazine A2.

Gwendolyn Albert, Jakub Polák, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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