Police brutality video sends shock wave through Belgium

A documentary compiled by the VRT's TV programme Panorama, showing a reconstruction of how a young man was apprehended and how he was brutally treated in a police cell in Mortsel - the young man died of his injuries - has sent a shock wave through Belgium and has triggered various reactions.

The 26-year-old victim was apprehended in January 2010 as he was behaving strangely at a busy crossroads. He is taken to a local police station in Mortsel (Antwerp province). It turns out he has taken amphetamines and has to be calmed down. The judicial authorities decide that he has to receive special psychological treatment, but he is refused twice by a psychiatric care centre. This means that the young man ends up in the police cell again.

The judicial authorities next decide that he has to be calmed down by giving him an injection. Local Mortsel police officers call in the help of the Special Intervention Unit of the Antwerp Police (BBT) to keep the man under control to give the injection.

That's when things go wrong. Footage released by the VRT's "Panorama" shows how eight members of the BBT enter the cell to overpower the young man in a quite violent way. Several men are on top of the victim. One of the BBT members also delivers a couple of blows to the man. The victim passes away after the incident due to internal bleeding. His body is covered with injuries.

Police say that they didn't make any mistakes, claiming they "acted carefully,  respecting the necessary precautions."

Experts however agree that there was no reason to use such violence. "There was a big chance that the man would calm down eventually. They had a thousand other opportunities", one of the experts told Panorama.

"We need an external watchdog for the judicial authorities"

The documentary sent a shock wave through Belgium. The case had made the headlines 3 years ago, but this was the first time that the shocking video was released. The images triggered a lot of reactions, also among police unions and politicians.

Some suggest that the police watchdog Comité P should investigate the case. The police trades union NSPV is not opposed to this: "It would allow an independent body to investigate whether mistakes have been made or not. We have to avoid that people are being condemned prematurely."

Bruges burgomaster and former minister Renaat Landuyt (Flemish socialist, photo), claims that an external watchdog should be created for the judicial authorities. "Is it a good thing that a judge can decide, sitting in his sofa, that someone has to be knocked out with sedatives?", the justice expert asks. "We have the Comité P for the police. But there is no watchdog on the next level. This is wrong. We have to do something about this. Now, people have the feeling that the judicial authorities are being let off the hook."

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