Czech Republic: Trial to start in case of violent death of a Romani man at the hands of police
Here in the Czech Republic, the media in general and this news server in particular are often criticized for reporting too often on racially-motivated crimes committed against Romani people. The following example shows that this is not always the case, as there are many such cases that quickly fizzle out without the media following them at all.
The Kynšperk scandal
It has been more than a year and a half since the death of Ľudovít Kašpar, father of three. In February a court will begin reviewing whether two police officers from Kynšperk nad Ohří are to blame for his early demise.
On the night of 5 May 2012, the officers targeted Kašpar, a completely healthy, unarmed citizen, on a public square in the center of town - while he was under the influence of narcotics, he did not pose any harm to anyone at the time. The officers detained him in a way that was so disproportionate that he died two days later in the hospital in Sokolov.
Kašpar's funeral was attended by Romani people from all over the region, who spoke of his death on that occasion as a bestial murder. With a few shining exceptions, the media did not cover the case at all, even though there have been no small number of reports about certain members of the police force violating the law in the Karlovy Vary Region in recent years.
One month after the incident, the Konexe civic association began organizing a demonstration in front of the Sokolov District Police Directorate to call for a proper investigation into the circumstances of Kašpar's death. Due to concerns that unrest might break out, several representatives of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion and representatives of the district police force spent a lot of energy and time persuading Romani people throughout the entire region not to participate in the demonstration.
During those official efforts, ugly, often completely invented gossip about the deceased was spread. The Konexe assembly (a dignified event without any incidents) was ultimately held with the participation of a clergyman, Romani representatives of the Equal Opportunities Party (Strana rovných příležitosti), and the deceased man's surviving family members.
Hard work pays off
Representatives of the Europe-Roma CZ civic association offered legal aid to the deceased man's family at his funeral. Legal representation of the victim's children was undertaken by Prague attorney Robert Pelikán, who had previously represented those involved in cases of illegal police interventions against those participating in anti-fascist blockades in the towns of Krupka and Nový Bydžov in 2011, as well as the case of a racist assault on a citizen of Beroun by neo-Nazis in 2009 and the controversial death of a Romani youth in Tanvald who was shot in the early morning hours of New Year's Day 2012.
In the Kynšperk case, Pelikán commissioned a medical report by an esteemed expert from the Prague-Vinohrady Hospital through the Europe-Roma CZ association. That expert opinion unequivocally refuted the claims of other experts that the police intervention had not caused the death of the deceased.
However, the investigation by the Inspector-General of the Security Corps became disproportionately protracted. The suspects were not suspended from service, and one of the victim's surviving relatives reported that one of the officers involved used to frequently laugh at him on the streets of Kynšperk in the aftermath of the killing.
Indictment: Unintentional killing
At the end of last year, the Regional State Prosecutor in Plzeň charged two members of the police with having committed the offense of negligent homicide in this case, a legal definition ordinarily used to describe deaths resulting from traffic accidents. According to the indictment, the officers committed this offense by violating their professional obligations; they face between one and six years in prison.
Because lower-level offenses are reviewed by lower-level courts, the case was assigned to the District Court in Sokolov. By agreeing to use this charge, the prosecutor saying the defendants never intended to kill the victim - in his view, they "merely" proceeded in an illegal way against him, as was also confirmed by expert witnesses from the field of detective work.
The defendants are insisting on their innocence, claiming they could not have proceeded otherwise and that the detained man died as a result of unfortunate circumstances beyond their control; they have neither apologized to the children of the deceased nor provided them with any financial assistance to compensate for the loss of their father. The case is remarkable in that the police officers testified that they never drew their service weapons to force their suspect to obey them by firing warning shots, but "went directly into action".
As always, the presumption of innocence applies in this case, and the court is only now about to decide whether the defendants are guilty. The decision to open the proceedings is good news in any event when it comes to the area of human rights protections and confirmation of Longfellow's saying that "Though the mills of God grind slowly/ Yet they grind exceeding small/ Though with patience he stands waiting/ With exactness grinds he all" - it "just" takes hard work and a significant dose of patience.
The main hearing in this case will begin on 17 February at 8:30 AM at the District Court in Sokolov, second floor, Room 228 (K.H. Borovského 57, Sokolov) and will continue on 24 February at 8:30 AM. The proceedings is open to the public.
This is not an isolated case
The Kynšperk scandal is not a unique case. People in the Czech Republic die during police interventions as a matter of course, and not just foreigners or members of minorities.
In most of these controversial cases prosecutions are never begun, such as in the infamous cases of the Romani people shot in Břeclav (during an ordinary traffic stop) and Horšovský Týn (during an interrogation at a police station) at the start of the 1990s. A woman who was just passing by also died as result of being shot during a police manhunt on a street in Mělník.
Recently the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the Czech Republic in the case of the death of a young Romani man in Brno whom police claimed had jumped out of a window at the police directorate of his own accord in 2001. While no one was ever criminally prosecuted for his death, the state had to pay compensation to the victim's surviving relatives because its employees had not met their obligation to properly investigate the case.
While other cases have made it to trial, they often end there with reduced sentences because the police officers have had high-quality legal assistance and the courts have not succeeded in proving the defendants' intended to kill. One exception is the case of the death of a citizen of the Vietnamese Republic in his apartment in Brno in 2009, where a member of the police force was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Not just the officer convicted, but the entire Czech Republic must also now pay compensation to the surviving relatives of the victim in that case. Prior to his death, according to the verdict, the public official involved caused the victim to suffer "particularly severe torture".
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