A 17-year-old passenger was killed when police officers fired at the car of a driver fleeing police near Nová Baňa (Banská Bystrica Region) on June 17, regional police spokesperson Petra Kováčiková told the TASR newswire.
The incident took place after officers in an unmarked police car attempted to stop a car driven by a 19-year-old Michal of Zlaté Moravce (Nitra Region), who is known to the police for driving without a license. While giving the right of way to cars on the main road near Nová Baňa, officers recognised the license of the vehicle as one associated with reckless driving.
The officers followed the car in the direction of the village of Orovnica. “When the car was several metres beyond the crossroads, the officers switched on their siren,” Kováčiková explained.
“The driver reacted by accelerating and made a risky manoeuvre to pass a vehicle in front of him, thereby endangering the passengers of a vehicle travelling on the other side of the road,” she said.
Police chase ends with passenger killed
In response to the driver’s actions, the police officers fired warning shots into the air. When the car did not slow down, the police offers shot it in an attempt to stop the driver. The car crashed after crossing a railroad track near the village of Hronský Beňadik (Banská Bystrica Region).
The police officers realized after the crash that the car had three teenage passengers. One of the passengers, 17-year-old Tomáš, was sitting in the rear seat of the car and was hit by an officer's bullet. He died on the scene, despite attempts resuscitate him.
The Interior Ministry inspectorate has already launched an investigation.
Life should be first priority
The police have justified their actions by saying that the driver put others on the road in danger. Experts say that in such a situation, police intervention is allowable when there are no other options for stopping the vehicle. According to the law, the police can shoot a fleeing car when it directly threatens other people, the Sme daily wrote on June 19.
“The management of the Police Corps should devote more attention to these issues, however, and re-evaluate such interventions,” security analyst Milan Žitný said for the daily, adding that the police should consider changing the policy to put the preservation of human life ahead of stopping a car.
The expert also explained that the car may have passengers who disagree with the driver’s actions but who are, in essence, held hostage within the situation. Žitný said that car chases with police puts the lives of those passengers at risk, as took place with this tragedy. Žitný also said that the policy is flawed for not containing directives that dictate where the shots should be targeted.
Past cases of police chases end in shooting
In August last year, police officers shot a car during a police chase near Trnva, hitting the driver in the ear and chest and a 16-year-old passenger in the arm. Police cameras show that the police forcibly removed the driver from the car and continued to use physical force once she was outside of the vehicle.
The case is under investigation, with three officers suspected of abuse of power.
Police also shot at a car filled with students on the D2 highway after mistaking the car for a stolen vehicle. The officers had made the decision using outdated information from the police database.
Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák originally refuted the claims of inappropriate police action but later admitted that there had been police missteps. Sme wrote that Kaliňák paid compensation to the passengers with his own money.
Last year a police patrol also shot at the car of Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Andrej Hrnčiar, though no injuries were reported.
Police president explains details
Police President Tibor Gašpar spoke to the media on the morning of June 19, saying that the police patrol had not initially known the identity of the driver but had recognised the car as a vehicle with a record for dangerous driving. He said that the officers did not know how many passengers were in the car because of the windows’ dark plastic film.
The aktuality.sk website wrote that the police aimed for the right rear tyre but hit the boot instead.
Gašpar said that the other passengers in the car - two boys and one girl - had begged the driver to stop. The police president also explained that the road check that the officers performed was part of a regional road-safety operation. Gašpar said that the vehicle was followed because it was known for being driven by a youth without a license.
He said that the officers waited until the car left inhabited areas before shooting.
Because the police car was made to look like a civilian vehicle, it did not have a camera.
Gašpar said that there was no malice on the part of the officers and that the investigation will determine whether there could have been any police negligence.
However, the event raises questions about potential improvements to the shooting exercises of police officers, as the shot meant for the tyre actually hit quite higher, travelling through the boot before hitting the passenger.