Coronavirus: teen's death in police check investigated as involuntary manslaughter

Coronavirus: teen's death in police check investigated as involuntary manslaughter
© Belga

An independent examining magistrate will lead an involuntary manslaughter investigation into a police chase during a coronavirus check in Brussels which resulted in the death of a 19-year-old.

The magistrate was appointed by Brussels' public prosecutor's office following a request from the victim's family, made through their lawyer, Alexis Deswaef.

"In these circumstances, where police officers are involved in the death of a boy, an independent investigating magistrate should be appointed," Deswaef told Bruzz.

The 19-year-old, a resident of the municipality of Anderlecht identified as Adil, was killed when his scooter crashed head-on with a police vehicle called for reinforcement because the teen fled an attempted coronavirus check.

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"Escaping a control for fear of a fine (...), which would cost €250, should never lead to death," he said. "The response of security forces must be proportionate."

Amid the nationwide lockdown, police in Belgium have been charged with enforcing confinement and social-distancing measures, with penalties ranging from written reports to a fine.

The deadly crash in Brussels coincided with an Easter weekend in which police in Flanders reported a surge in violations of the lockdown measures as dozens flocked to the streets to enjoy the warm weather.

The teen's death on Friday caused outrage among residents and fueled animosity between local communities and police, who clashed violently with each other during riots on Saturday which saw dozens arrested.

"We do not want investigations to be solely conducted by the public prosecutor's office," Deswaef said, adding that the appointed magistrate should also be able to call in police oversight body Committee P to guarantee that no parties with a stake in the event are involved in the investigation.

The lawyer said that eyewitnesses, including the teen who was with Adil on the night of the event, should be heard as part of the investigation and that the family hoped that CCTV footage would be made accessible and also reviewed.

Deswaef said that the information that he had collected so far led him to question the actions taken by the police officers, which he said had "endangered the life of a young person."

"As a police force, should you chase two boys fleeing a check for fear of a fine? Does that justify having two police cars start a chase and call for reinforcement, with a police car rushing in and eventually causing an accident? I think the answer is no," he added.

The launch of the manslaughter investigation by the independent magistrate comes as public prosecutors in Brussels are already conducting at least two investigations into the deadly incident: one for malicious traffic obstruction and for the traffic accident.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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