Slovak Police President defends intervention against Roma, says batons were brandished but nobody was struck
The President of the Police Corps of the Slovak Republic, Tibor Gašpar, gave a press conference on 25 May about the recent police intervention in Zborov and, contradicting his first statements about the video of the incident, said the only behavior he now assessed as disproportionate was when an officer pushed an older woman who then fell to the ground. The Police President said he believed the officers had had no choice but to behave as they did and that they used their batons just to threaten people, not to actually strike them.
On the other hand, Gašpar admitted that the matter would now be assessed by the Police Inspectorate to see whether any part of the intervention broke the law. He also said that on 16 April, when the incident took place, the patrol that intervened was just two officers from the town of Bardejov, who had been responding to a different incident among family members.
"After the patrol intervened in the first incident, they noticed that a conflict nearby was underway involving between 70 to 100 people. Some were verbally assaulting each other and there were also physical exchanges," the Police President said, referencing the fact those attacks could be seen on the video published by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC).
"Their reaction was that they could not deal with such a big incident on their own," Gašpar said. Another three patrols were called to the scene as backup.
"From the perspective of the offences we have identified, we are proceeding in the matter of three offences against civil coexistence among Romani residents of that settlement who were in conflict with each other, and one matter was dealt with on the scene by issuing a fine to a person who failed to obey a police order," the Police President said. The law determines how and when an officer may use force, he noted.
"It is a matter for the Inspectorate to assess which part of the officers' intervention was lawful," the Police President said, adding that he would not make any further statements about the lawfulness of the intervention. "In the video footage two persons can be seen, one sitting on top of the other, and an attack is underway which, in the worst-case scenario, could be a matter of life or death. It was precisely to those two citizens in the brawl that the officers wanted to get who have been filmed as the proceed down the street where they are being assaulted themselves, sometimes physically, sometimes verbally, by settlement residents, whether adults or juveniles."
Gašpar said there had been no other way for the officers to get to the two brawling citizens. He is of the opinion that in many cases the law enforcement officers were just threatening to use their batons rather than actually striking anybody with them.
"For the time being, I assess only the pushing of the older person as having been disproportionate. Apparently it was preceded by the police calling for everybody to return to their homes and not block the intervention," the Police President said, adding that in his opinion the residents ignored the police instructions because some were drunk or wanted to prevent the officers from taking any further action.
The Inspectorate will have to analyze the officers' behavior vis-a-vis specific individuals and identify them in order to prove whether the officers also intervened against six-year-olds or against persons who may have appeared to be 18 years old or older but who were in fact 15 years old, as has been alleged. Gašpar rejected the allegations made by Romani residents that officers returned to the settlement that same evening and forced them to delete their video footage of the intervention from their mobile phones.
The Police President said the evening shift of officers had been deployed for the intervention and continued once it was over to perform its duties until morning, and that the records of their work will testify to the fact that they never returned to the settlement. He then explained to journalists why officers do not yet have video cameras as part of their uniforms.
"We need 6 000 - 7 000 cameras so that each police officer on duty can wear one. The total cost to asquire the cameras is between EUR 16 million and EUR 20 million," the Police President said, adding that he believes the ministry will find the financing for such cameras.
"There is a plan developed to finance this from EU funds. It takes time," he said.
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