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Human rights activists: Czech police officers who intervened against Stanislav Tomáš should be suspended until investigations end, ban kneeling on the neck during interventions

28.7.2021 15:20
Jaroslav Miko (left), Edita Stejskalová (middle) and Gwendolyn Albert (right) speaking on 28 July 2021 at a press conference in Prague on the case of the death of Stanislav Tomáš. (PHOTO:  ROMEA TV)
Jaroslav Miko (left), Edita Stejskalová (middle) and Gwendolyn Albert (right) speaking on 28 July 2021 at a press conference in Prague on the case of the death of Stanislav Tomáš. (PHOTO: ROMEA TV)

Speaking at a press conference in Prague today, human rights activists called for police reform, including a ban on officers kneeling on detainees' necks during interventions, the mandatory compilation of statistics on those who either die or are injured in police custody, and more thorough training of police officers. They were responding to the death of Stanislav Tomáš, who passed away in Teplice on 19 June shortly after an intervention against him by police. 

According to political scientist Edita Stejskalová, a former member of the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs, the intervening officers should be suspended pending the outcome of investigations into the Teplice incident. Separate crime reports against the police were previously filed by the legal representative for the Tomáš family and by the Union of Vlax Roma.  

Stejskalová highlighted that the aim of the activists' call is not to "demonize" the police, but to press for their work to become more professional and reformed. She said that publicly available sources of information reveal there have been at least 10 cases since 1990 of people dying after an intervention against them by police on Czech territory. 

She went on to say that most of the cases involved people of other than Czech nationality or especially vulnerable people, for example, those who are mentally ill. "We're not engaging in emotional blackmail here, but I must make a moral appeal to the public. All of us have the right to life," she said.

The investigation into the death of Mr Tomáš, in her view, has not been thoroughly undertaken and many questions about the case remain unanswered. The main question, according to the human rights activists, is how an independent, transparent investigation of the intervention by the police in Teplice will be guaranteed.   

Stejskalová said that, as in the preceding cases of death in custody, police have also asserted in the Tomáš case that their force members proceeded correctly, but in some previous cases, the courts later decided the interventions had been disproportionate. She also said attempts to degrade and dehumanize Mr Tomáš were apparent in the approach taken by police officers and by some politicians, and similar posts in that vein are circulating on social media. 

The activist warned that very few public figures have expressed condolences to the surviving family members of Mr Tomáš. "We must realize that according to the Supreme Audit Office, 79 % of officers have not been educated to do police work, which means they are not graduates of the academy. According to police instructor Pavel Černý, it is exactly low-quality training that causes basic errors during interventions by police that could lead to death," she told news server Romea.cz.   

The press conference opened with Gwendolyn Albert reading a statement from the Czech branch of Amnesty International calling on the Czech authorities to immediately, impartially and thoroughly investigate the police response after which Mr Tomáš, who was of Romani origin, died in Teplice. Jaroslav Miko, founder of the Czechs Are Helping Initiative, then read a statement by a candidate for the Chamber of Deputies for the Pirates, Mahulena Opletalová, who is the regional director of the Fokus Praha organization.  

"For an appropriate, safe resolution to a crisis situation where a person temporarily does not perceive what is happening around him, whether that be as a consequence of using addictive substances or as a consequence of mental or physical illness, it is absolutely essential to take advantage of an entire complex of skills. I am aware that this is not easy and that errors can happen, however unfortunate that may be. In a situation that is challenging and complicated, though, it is not possible to make mistakes because the price of making them can be high. The highest price may even be paid. A human life is always the very highest price," the candidate's statement said.

ACTIVISTS' DEMANDS OF THE CZECH INTERIOR MINISTRY AND POLICE

The Interior Ministry and police units must:

1) Staff all higher police positions solely with academy graduates.
2) Increase the amount of time spent on basic police training.
3) Train all units of the defense system and the rescue system in civil and human rights, 30 hours per year.
4) Ban the use of the technique of kneeling on the neck area, has been done in some states in the USA.
5) Keep mandatory statistics on persons who die or are injured during the performance of police service.
6) Require audiovisual recordings to be made in cases where police are intervening against disruptions of public order and are informed the perpetrator is aggressive.
7) That the Interior Ministry follow the recommendations of the Supreme Audit Office dated 9 November 2020 on the issue of the education of the police and its financing. 
8) That the Interior Ministry provide adequate financial resources for the Police of the Czech Republic to educate officers according to the actual needs formulated by the police units. Furthermore, arrange for financial resources at the level of all police units so understaffing does not happen. 
9) That the Interior Ministry fulfill the tasks it has formulated in its own conceptual and strategic materials, as it is responsible for fulfilling them (e.g. to educate the employees of the police and the resuce system in the area of civil and human rights and to significantly strengthen the communications skills of officers focusing on vulnerable groups).
10) That the Regional Police Directorate immediately suspend the intervening officers in the matter of Mr Tomáš until the crime reports against them have been investigated.

SB, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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death after police intervention, Live, Press conference, Roma



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