Slovakia: Commander of brutal police raid against Romani people prosecuted
The Slovak Interior Ministry's Inspectorate has accused the police officer who was directly in charge at the scene of a raid against Romani people in the Slovak town of Vrbnica in 2015 of criminal activity. Other prosecutions of the individual police officers accused of committing violence against the Romani residents during the raid have been halted.
It could not be unequivocally proven which officers committed which acts of violence or other illegal behavior against the Romani victims. The raid happened on 2 April 2015 in Vrbnica.
According to information published immediately after the intervention, the police officers commited violence against a large number of Romani residents. Many of the Romani people suffered injuries requiring medical treatment.
Slovak Public Defender of Rights Jana Dubovcová has reached the conclusion that the intervention was not necessary. In April of this year, the Slovak Interior Ministry's Inspectorate began prosecutions of those involved for abusing their powers as public officials through the disproportionate use of force.
"During the investigation, the Romani people who were harmed gave statements and the suspected police force members were also interrogated. The victims confirmed that during the intervention, the police officers beat them with their fists and truncheons for no reason," reads a press release from the organization Center for Civil and Human Rights (Poradňa pre občianske a ľudské práva), which provided free legal aid during the criminal proceedings to the victims.
Individual officers' guilt cannot be proven
Police force members told investigators that the aim of the raid in Vrbnica was to find a wanted person from the next village, and all of their testimonies asserted that they never used any force against the Romani residents because there had been no reason to do so. Medical experts, however, confirmed that the Romani residents sought treatment for injuries that had most probably been caused by their being struck with truncheons and that they could not have caused such harm to themselves.
Some victims said they would be able to recognize the officers who had committed the illegal behavior. A detective then ordered an identification process during which the victims who alleged they had been in contact with the suspected officers would be able to identify them.
"The process, however, was not performed in the standard way, with the victim behind a one-way window, but involved the suspects and the victims meeting face to face. Not one of the victims was able to identify an individual officer during the process," the Center for Civil and Human Rights reports.
A detective from the Inspectorate suspended the investigation at the end of November, saying no evidence had been found that could be used as a basis for charging individual officers with committing illegal behavior during the raid. "The attorney for the victims filed a complaint against the decision to suspend the prosecution on 12 December 2016," reports the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
According to Vanda Durbáková, the attorney working with the Center, this outcome was caused by specific errors committed by police during the investigation. "In my opinion, the Inspectorate could have done more in this case to find enough evidence immediately after the intervention," she says.
"The residents of Vrbnica contacted police on the very day of the raid, but the detective from the Inspectorate did not visit the crime scene until several days later, and that could have created complications when it came to important evidence," Durbáková says. She also notes that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has repeatedly emphasized that the beginning phase of any investigation is crucial to discovering the truth in such cases.
Just the commander of the raid will be prosecuted
In addition to investigating the intervening officers, the Slovak Interior Ministry's Inspectorate began a separate investigation in September 2015 of their commander. He allegedly facilitated the intervening officers causing the injuries to 16 victims from the Romani settlement through his inconsistent command during the raid.
"In that criminal proceedings, on 30 November 2016, the Inspectorate detective accused the specific individual who commanded the intervention on the spot in Vrbnica. The prosecution of that case will continue. The case could make it to the supervising prosecutor, who will decide whether to indict the accused," the Center says.
"The fact that the Inspectorate has accused the commander of the raid who was on the scene is good news. I believe this matter will go to trial and that the court will decide in accordance with the law," Durbáková said.
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