Ex-policeman sentenced to jail for brutal assault on Vietnamese that ended in death

Josef Srnský, photo: CTK

A Brno court on Tuesday sentenced a former police officer to three and a half years in prison for a brutal assault on a Vietnamese national which took place in January 2009. The man later died of serious internal injuries. The court also handed a two-and-a- half year sentence to the victim’s flatmate for participating in the attack. Two other policemen, who were standing by but did not interfere, landed conditional sentences.

Josef Srnský,  photo: CTK
The assault took place in the south Moravian city of Brno in January 2005 after a woman called the police because she thought she had found drugs in her apartment which she shared with 43-year-old Vietnamese man, Hoang Son Lam.

When the police arrived they found what they believed to be 26 doses of street-ready heroin. The three policemen, led by commanding officer Josef Srnský, then waited in the apartment for Mr Hoang to come home from work.

Petra Kozlanská is a reporter for the Brno branch of the daily Mladá fronta Dnes. She has been following the case and describes what happened when the man finally arrived.

“The man was sitting on a chair and was visibly subdued. They asked him to stand up and put his hands behind his back. Everybody present at the time said the man kept swaying, and the policemen kept telling him to straighten up. After that, the accounts differ – the key witness said that Mr Srnský hit the Vietnamese several times, kicked him in the ribs, accusing him of selling drugs to children, and yelling that he hated the Vietnamese.”

Hoang Son Lam was later taken to hospital where he died the next day of serious injuries. It also later turned out that what the police thought was heroin were actually packages of starch.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
The three policemen were charged with of causing grievous bodily harm and abuse of power; officer Srnský faced up to fifteen years in prison. The woman, who lived in the apartment with the Vietnamese man, was accused of taking part in the attack.

Petra Kozlanská was present in the courtroom when the judge on Tuesday delivered the verdict.

“The judge said the commanding officer absolutely misjudged the situation, that it was clearly obvious the Vietnamese man was not well, that he could not kneel down. They should have allowed him to lie down. Also, doctors said that if he had received timely medical attention, he could have survived despite having a ruptured spleen and severe internal bleeding”

The accused could have landed stricter sentences but the court did not establish a direct link between the assault and the victim’s death. The prosecutor, Ludmila Doležalová, said they will consider appealing.

“The reasoning behind the verdict failed to explain why the court found no causality between the actions of the defendants, who were found guilty, and their consequences – the death of the victim. The court did not provide any detailed explanation of this, and once we receive the verdict in writing, we will examine it to see whether or not we can appeal it.”

I spoke to Mr Truong Cong Su who is a member of the Brno branch of the Union of Vietnamese in the Czech Republic. He says justice stopped half-way.

“I think that the direct cause of death was obvious. They inflicted the injuries, which the court acknowledged. The man did not die on the spot, but later, and they did not provide any medical attention.

Josef Srnský,  photo: CTK
"I would say we are satisfied to a certain extent because the court convicted the people who caused the death of our national. The parties have eight days to appeal, and they said they would appeal the verdict.”

All four persons found guilty on Tuesday immediately appealed the verdict and maintain their innocence. Mr Srnský claims the Vietnamese man suffered the injuries after he fell down on the stairs. Meanwhile, a lawyer for Mr Hoang’s family told reporters they would demand many millions of crowns in compensation from the authorities.