New verdict on police brutality case

Sentenced former police officer Jaroslav Kraft, photo: CTK

On Thursday a regional court sentenced a former police officer to three years in prison for having beaten to death an aggressive drunk driver. The highly publicized case has dragged for thirteen years, has seen four verdicts and opened debate on the extent to which police officers can get away with abusing their office.

Sentenced former police officer Jaroslav Kraft,  photo: CTK
The case being judged happened on a country road one night and the only witnesses of what actually happened are the two officers who were charged with beating a man to death. Josef Soltys was driving home very drunk when a police car flagged him down for a routine check. He ignored them and drove on but they caught up with him and forced him to stop. He was allegedly very aggressive and physically attacked them. The officers claim they used restraining techniques to pacify him, forced him into the police car and drove him to the police station where he collapsed. He was rushed to hospital and operated on, succumbing to what doctors said were massive internal injuries. Medical specialists consulted said the injuries - a torn spleen and ruptured intestines -indicated that the man had been brutally beaten up. His family demanded justice but judge after judge pronounced a not-guilty verdict. District court judge Lubos Patzehnhauer who pronounced the third non-guilty verdict said although it was clear that the victim was beaten to death the fact that he did not know which of the officers committed the crime meant he could not punish either of them.

"I have no option but to let them go free even though the fatal beating took place in their presence so to speak"

Former police officer Zdenek Pihyr who was discharged,  photo: CTK
The state attorney appealed the verdict and the fourth time round the regional court found one of the officers guilty. He requested medical experts to try to specify when the injuries had taken place. An expert suggested that given the extent of internal bleeding and the patient's condition at the time he arrived in hospital the fatal injuries to his internal organs had taken place during the 20 minute long ride to the police station. Judge Libor Michalec said this was evidence enough for him:

"In the car each of the officers had their separate roles - one was driving the other was sitting in the back seat next to the victim"

The officer sitting in the back seat was sentenced to three years. He was clearly stunned by the verdict and immediately appealed. The family say they are relieved that justice has finally been done - but the case may not be at an end and the legal aspects of individual and collective responsibility are now being widely discussed.