Strasbourg Court tells Czech Republic to pay compensation for death of Romani man at police station
The European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR) decided today that Czech authorities did not sufficiently investigate the circumstances under which 23-year-old Vladimír Pecha died at a police station in Brno in June 2002. The court ruled that many procedural errors had been committed and that the death of the young man, who weighed only 58 kg, would not have occurred had police officers not led him past windows without bars and had they had kept better watch over him. The judgment is available here: http://cmiskp.echr.coe.int/tkp197/view.asp?item=1&portal=hbkm&action=html&highlight=Eremi%E1%u0161ov%E1&sessionid=86633519&skin=hudoc-en
"The Court came to the opinion that Mr Pecha's right to life was violated," David Zahumenský, chair of the League of Human Rights, said today. The Court has awarded compensation to the deceased man's loved ones in the amount of EUR 20 0000 (about CZK 506 000) and another EUR 4 000 eur (about 101 000) as compensation for their court costs.
Zahumenský says the case is the first-ever instance of the ECtHR criticizing the Czech Republic for violating the right to life. "We hope this precedent will motivate the Czech Republic to improve its approach toward investigating cases wherein police are suspected of abusing their power or where crime victims are concerned," Zahumenský told the Czech Press Agency today.
The ECtHR criticized the fact that the police escort neglected the Romani man's security when he was in their custody. The youth was not handcuffed and the officers led him past a window with no bars on it. Other mistakes were made during the investigation of his death. The ECtHR found that the Czech authorities' investigation had been based entirely on the police officers' statements and testimony, which means it cannot be considered entirely independent.
The Court ruled that the compensation should be equally divided between the mother and the common-law wife of the deceased, who is raising their son. She left the Czech Republic some time ago and is now living in Canada. The deceased man's mother passed away last year, so Zahumenský says her share of the compensation will probably be divided among her heirs.
Pecha was arrested by police officers on suspicion of stealing a video recorder and was escorted to the police station in Brno - Královo Pole. Several hours later he fell eight meters from a window in the station and was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.
Today, 10 years later, it is still not possible to determine what precisely occurred at the police station that day. State authorities considered suicide the only possible cause of Pecha's death from the start. However, Mr Pecha's common-law wife never believed he would have decided on his own to commit suicide by jumping out of a window. She said he had been in good health and they were expecting a child together. Concerned that police might have used violence against him, she filed criminal charges and sought the aid of lawyers from the League of Human Rights, who represented her in the proceedings.
The Strasbourg court has reported that many of the circumstances of the case do not support the credibility of the police version of events. For example, Pecha was detained for six hours at the station, but the investigation never clarified what was done with him or with whom he was in contact. Moreover, the first steps toward investigating the incident were taken by officers from the very same station where the death occurred, i.e., by colleagues of the officers who had accompanied him on the stairs at the time when they say he jumped through the window.
The questions investigated by the criminologist performing Pecha's autopsy did not include, for example, whether his clothing had been torn or whether there had been any injuries that could be considered proof of violence having been used against him. An instructor at the Police Academy (who went on to become its director) filed an expert affidavit in the case containing many contradictory statements and errors. For example, in one place the expert claims Mr Pecha landed on his feet after going through the window, while in another he describes Mr Pecha as landing on his head.
The League of Human Rights says it will review the judgment in detail and release more information about the case later today.
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