A year ago, an officer in Mannheim beat a 47-year-old man with his fists and pushed him to the ground, while another officer did not help the dying man. For this, the perpetrators must now appear before the criminal senate.
The case is reminiscent of the African-American George Floyd, who was killed by police in the US state of Minnesota in May 2020: Almost two years later, on 2 May 2022, a police officer in Mannheim maces a psychiatric patient on a pavement at the market square with pepper spray, brings him to the ground and fixes him in a prone position with his knee. Thus pinned down, the 47-year-old receives punches to the face, with another officer watching. The bleeding and finally unconscious man is taken away by paramedics and dies in hospital.
Now the two perpetrators have to stand trial. Last Thursday, the 1st Grand Criminal Chamber of the Mannheim Regional Court announced the trial dates against the police officers involved. Starting on 7 January, seven sessions are scheduled until 8 March. The accused is a police superintendent charged with bodily harm in office resulting in death, and attempted dangerous bodily harm is assumed to be a separate offence. The public prosecutor’s office accuses a police captain, who was also involved, of negligent homicide by omission.
The deceased was a patient of the Central Institute for Mental Health in Mannheim and is said to have suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. His treating doctor had called the police because of acute danger to the man himself, after he had suddenly left the institution during an exceptional mental situation. Afterwards, the 47-year-old is said to have rung the police station’s bell himself, but then left again in the direction of the later crime scene at the market place. While walking away, he turned to look at the police officers who were following him, whereupon the man was sprayed in the face with pepper spray. He allegedly resisted being arrested with two punches.
Several videos of the incident are circulating on social media. They show both the abuse and the transport of the man by ambulance. The images of excessive police violence caused outrage in Germany and protests in Mannheim a year ago.
The statements of the federal chairman of the right-wing German Police Union (DPolG), Rainer Wendt, also caused criticism. In an interview with the TV station “Bild”, Wendt had doubted the authenticity of the videos posted on the net and declared that the use of police force “does not produce pretty pictures”. He added that he could not see that the use of force was unusual.
In September of last year, an expert opinion of the public prosecutor’s office had determined that the death was not natural and that the man died of a “positional and fixation-related respiratory impairment”. According to an autopsy, he had suffered from heart insufficiency.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office in Mannheim already brought charges against the two police officers in December. The investigation into the incident had previously been conducted by the State Criminal Police Office of Baden-Wuerttemberg, which set up a tip-off portal and a tip-off telephone. Witnesses were able to upload videos and pictures and provide information. The police are said to have received a total of 120 video sequences, each of which “showed individual storylines of the course of events”. From these and with the help of the statements of 91 eyewitnesses, the investigators created a one-hour chronological summary of the crime.
According to the court, “in addition to his unfavourable fixation on his stomach”, the nose bleeding resulting from a total of four punches was “at least partly responsible” for the death of the 47-year-old. The police commissioner is said to be responsible for this. The use of pepper spray against the departing victim is considered by the prosecution as attempted dangerous bodily harm in office.
His colleague, who had been charged with failure to render assistance, was said not to have been involved in this or in the fisticuffs. However, he had failed to ensure that the patient was moved to a lateral position. In this way, the death could have been avoided “with probability bordering on certainty”, according to the forensic medicine department. “The 47-year-old could then have breathed more freely,” the court said.
Only a few days after the fatal incident, a police officer in Mannheim shot a 31-year-old man in a state of mental emergency in the leg, who subsequently died. In September, the public prosecutor’s office declared the case to be self-defence and discontinued the investigation.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: The crime scene in Mannheim (Public Domain).