A man convicted of throwing a stone that caused a police officer to crash his van and suffer a fractured skull has had his sentenced overturned by the court of appeal in Antwerp.
The incident took place in Houthalen-Helchteren in Limburg in October 2013. In the social housing neighbourhood of Meulenberg, police arrested a young man who still had seven months of a prison sentence to serve.
That led to riots as other youths gathered, and stones were thrown at police, damaging a number of vehicles.
One stone, however, hit the van being driven by officer Mario Ghijs, causing him to run off the road and crash. In the accident he sustained a serious skull fracture.
Two men were later arrested and charged. In the court of first instance one man, aged 36, was found guilty of throwing a stone and of being an accessory to the assault on officer Ghijs.
The court reasoned that although it could not be established who had thrown the stone in question, the accused was one of the first to throw a stone, and was therefore guilty of encouraging the others. He was sentenced to 40 months in prison.
The second man, aged 44, had been seen with a stone in his hand, and the first court found him guilty of the attack and sentenced him to 18 months, six months suspended.
The case went to appeal, and the appeal court threw out the 36-year-old man’s conviction for injuring the officer, rejecting the lower court’s argument.
The appeal court also overturned an order for damages of €200,000 to be paid to the Limburg Regio Hoofdstad police zone. The damages were reduced to €1,500.
The 44-year-old man was acquitted on appeal, since it could not be shown that he had thrown a stone at all. The 18-month sentence was quashed.
Police union VSOA was not satisfied with the judgment.
“Both Mario and his family are deeply disillusioned with this statement after nearly seven years of suffering,” representative Patrick Roijens said after the verdict.
“Especially now that he has to accept the fact that he is on his own. Apparently, no one is to blame for the serious and permanent injuries Mario sustained, that have left him unable to function as before. He is abandoned by everyone: government, justice and employer, whereas he was only doing his job on that evening.”
The union now intends to take legal advice on a possible appeal to the Cassation Court.