Second top police official resigns over fatal Charleroi Airport arrest

Second top police official resigns over fatal Charleroi Airport arrest
Still from CCTV footage originally obtained by Het Laatste Nieuws

The director of the Aviation Police in Belgium, Danny Elst, has been released from his duties over the 2018 death of a Slovak man under police custody at Charleroi Airport, after footage emerged of one officer doing a Nazi salute while in the man's cell.

Elst will be transferred to another department, reports Het Nieuwsblad. After Director-General André Desenfants' announcement of his resignation on Thursday, Elst is now the second top officer to resign over the incident.

The difference with Desenfants' resignation is that, in addition to Elst's own intention to take a step aside, an order measure by the Commissioner-General was imposed on him, a source told the Flemish newspaper.

The decision to transfer Elst was made on Friday, but the federal police did not want to communicate about it at the time, in the interest of the psychosocial well-being of Elst and the impact on his family, reports VRT.

Elst, who had been leading the Aviation Police for many years, will reportedly get an administrative position in the "resources management" department as of Monday.

Contrary to Desenfants, who claimed he knew nothing about the police intervention in question, Elst was reportedly aware of what had happened in Charleroi. The internal police investigation that is currently being conducted is expected to bring more clarity.

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The decision comes after footage emerged of several police officers restraining Jozef Chovanec (38), a Slovak national who died after being arrested in Charleroi Airport in 2018 for reportedly behaving in a disorderly manner before boarding a flight.

The footage shows Chovanec in apparent distress inside a small cell, fidgeting and jumping around before proceeding to bang his head against the cell door until blood begins to cover his face.

At least six officers can be seen inside the cell hovering around Chovanec, who was tied-up at his hands and feet, as one officer climbs on top of him and kneels on his back, despite Chovanec not physically resisting the officers once he has been put on the bed.

The officer remained on top of Chovanec for several minutes, after which a female police officer can be seen doing a Nazi salute with one hand while mimicking Hitler’s signature moustache with the other. The following day, Chovanec was transported to a hospital, where he passed away.

The man's family expressed fears that the fact that the investigation is still unresolved two years after the facts may be an attempt to bury the case.

According to federal police spokesperson Sarah Frederickx, the officer who performed the Nazi salute would be removed from operational services as well as services involving contact with the public.

Next week, the Belgian parliament will set up a hearing with the Justice and Interior Commission in the Chamber to review the case, Kristien Van Vaerenbergh, chair of the Justice Commission, told De Morgen.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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