POLICE officers regularly shoot at civilians, said Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák when explaining the disputed police operation from June 2013, in which police were firing shots at a car on the D2 highway with four innocent students.
The shots were fired in an attempt to detain a criminal suspected of two murders. Instead, the police detained a group of students who had nothing to do with the murders. The entire operation lasted more than five hours, with the students having no idea as to why they had been stopped and interrogated for much of that time. The police later found out that while the car once belonged to the murder suspect, it had since changed owners multiple times. None of the police officers have been punished.
Though a police inspection cleared the methods used by the police officers, opposition politicians are criticising, among other things, the destruction of a video recording of the intervention. More recently, the state ombudswoman also spoke out on the case, questioning the results of the inspection.
“We have dozens or hundreds of similar interventions a year,” Kaliňák said after the session of the parliamentary defence and security committee on April 3, as quoted by the public-service Slovak Radio (SRo). He added that sometimes there are three or four such cases in a single week.
Kaliňák did say that the inspection of the shooting revealed two serious mistakes. First, the police officers could have received the information that the car did not belong to the wanted criminal if one of the operational officers was observing the rules. Second, there was no reason for detaining the students on the highway for three hours, Kaliňák said, as reported by the SITA newswire. He confirmed that the students will be compensated.
Ľubomír Galko of the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party welcomed that Kaliňák admitted the mistakes, but disagrees with Kaliňák’s claim that the methods the police used were justified as they were looking for a criminal suspect.
“It is the most serious mistake that they were searching for a car that should not have been in the register for a long time,” Galko said, as quoted by SITA.
He also criticised the destruction of the video recording that was made by a camera in the police car. While Kaliňák says that there was no reason to keep it and that “there is no doubt about what is on the video”, Galko claims that it will now be difficult to learn the truth, SITA wrote.
Galko has filed a criminal complaint in the case, with suspicion that the destruction was unjustified and over suspicions a police officer made false statements.
“I do not want to accept the fact that there is shooting at innocent people taking place in Slovakia and that the police refuse to acknowledge their mistakes,” Galko said, as quoted by the TASR newswire.
The police tried to stop a Volkswagen Passat on the D2 highway heading towards the Czech Republic on June 24, 2013. It was listed as belonging to Milan Ďuriš, suspected of murdering a couple in a boarding house in Zuberec in the Orava region. The police claimed that after the driver first pulled the car over to the side of the road, he then sped off in an attempt to escape the police. Officers started shooting, first in the air and then at the car. Only then did the driver stop the car and the people got out of it.
The police also suspended the driver’s licence for attempting to flee the police. He has not received it back yet.
The students, however, said that the police had no reason to shoot at their car. According to them, the gestures of the police officers were not clear and they did not know they had to stop. According to the driver, it seemed that the police officer allowed them to continue on their journey.
After the shooting the students were reportedly handcuffed and ordered to lie down on the road with other cars passing by just a few metres away. Then they were left standing in the rain for an hour, having been told to switch off their mobile phones. Moreover, one of the police officers wanted to examine the only girl in the group and ordered her to take her clothes off, though they were searching for a man, the Sme daily reported in August 2013.
Though the whole incident was recorded on a camera in the police car, Kaliňák did not want to use it, explaining that they cannot use it as evidence since they were only testing the device, as reported by Sme. TV JOJ reported on March 26 that police officers from the presidium proceeded outside the normal routine when they travelled to the Záhorie region to obtain a file concerning the suspension of the driving licence of one of the students. Then they brought the file to Senec, without duly registering it; then inspectors came and took 18 pages from the file, including the crucial video recording. They used it and then returned it, but not to Senec, but to the Regional Directorate in Bratislava, where the video was destroyed.
Kaliňák defended the destruction of the video on April 3, saying there was no reason to keep it. However, Karol Spišák, a lawyer for the students, says that the video could have clarified several ambiguous aspects of the case, for example, the gestures made by the police officers, Sme wrote.
The media also reported about the written testimonies of two police officers who were present during the police operations, which are exactly the same. They contain the same wording, the same arguments and even the same grammar mistakes, Sme reported, referring to the documents it obtained.
Kaliňák, however, said that “they probably agreed” on their testimonies. According to him, they testified under oath, which means that they could be prosecuted if they were lying, as reported by Sme.
Spišák also said that several statements Kaliňák made during the committee session were not true. While the minister claimed they could have dealt with the case without the media, Spišák said he had sent him a letter back in autumn 2013 asking him for a meeting, but he never received a reply. Instead, the police inspection called for a meeting, the lawyer said, as cited by TASR.
He also responded to Kaliňák’s claim that the students have not asked for any compensation for the damaged car. According to him, they sent the ministry an invoice for €1,800, but they received a response that there was no wrongdoing by police, therefore they will not receive any money, TASR wrote.
Ombudswoman steps in
Meanwhile, Ombudswoman Jana Dubovcová filed two motions over the case on March 24. The first one, submitted to the district prosecution in Skalica, pertains to the methods employed by the police during the action. Dubovcová’s office concluded that the official probe into the incident carried out by the Interior Ministry investigation team has not brought enough evidence to explain the numerous disparities between the accounts of the incident provided by the students and the respective police officers. Therefore, it is necessary to find more evidence to remove the disparities, the ombudswoman explained, as reported by TASR.
The second motion, filed with the Interior Ministry, involves objections to the methods of the ministry’s review of the case, which did not allow the lawyer representing the students to see the file on the investigation of the incident. Dubovcová’s office called this a violation of the law on information obtained through a lawyer, which is guaranteed by the constitution. At the same time the ombudswoman urged the ministry and the respective police department to take all necessary steps to remedy this, TASR wrote.
Dubovcová told The Slovak Spectator that she has not received any relevant response yet.
Discussion over the incident also opened the question of separating the police inspection and the police itself.
“It proves that it does not work when the inspection and the police run under one ministry and one minister,” Galko said, as quoted by TASR.
Meanwhile, also Martin Fedor of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) proposed the establishment of the independent inspection that will check the methods applied by police, prison guard, custom officers and soldiers. The inspection should not be linked to any of the force ministries, he said, as quoted by TASR.
Fedor, who discussed the law also with Dubovcová, wants to submit it to the parliament by summer.
Kaliňák responded that more than two years ago the previous government abolished the Military Prosecutor’s Office which was an independent inspection institution. He does not support the proposal as it may cause instability and some proceedings that are already underway may be stopped and the perpetrators will remain unpunished, he said, as cited by SRo.
Dubovcová, however, stresses that there should be the independent body that will check whether the methods used by police were legitimate in case they raise doubts.
“I point to this deficiency because in similar cases the European Court of Human rights ruled that it is the state’s duty to secure the investigation of similar cases through independent institution,” she said, adding that in such cases even the prosecutor’s office “does not fulfil the requirement of independence of the investigation” as it supervises the criminal prosecution.
21. Apr 2014 at 0:00 | Radka Minarechová