Death in custody: Disciplinary procedure against three senior officers
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Death in custody: Disciplinary procedure against three senior officers

The blood-stained police cell after Chovanec was removed to hospital. © Police video

Federal home affairs minister Annelies Verlinden (CD&V) has begun disciplinary proceedings against three senior police officers connected to the death of Jozef Chovanec at Charleroi airport in 2018.

Verlinden’s ministry is one of no fewer than eight disciplinary authorities with jurisdiction over the case. The police authorities have said they will decide whether or not to proceed in the coming days. Verlinden, in the meantime, is going ahead.

However in the interest of the rights of the defence, she is not prepared at present to reveal the names of the three officers concerned with her procedure, or the exact charges against them. In the case of one officer, she told a member of the federal parliament in a written reply to a question, the complaint will be joined by justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD).

Chovanec, a Slovakian national, was removed from a flight to his homeland in February 2018 when he began behaving erratically, and was taken into custody in a police cell in the airport. There, he began hitting his head against the cell door, and fought with police when they tried to restrain him.

At some point during the melee he lost consciousness and was taken to hospital, where he died later. An investigation was opened, but despite attempts by Chovanec’s wife and the Slovakian ambassador to Belgium, no progress was made.

Until, that is, CCTV footage of the incident inside the cell was leaked to the media last year, clearly showing a heavy-handed police intervention, and one female officer laughing and making a Nazi salute.

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According to the VRT, the officers concerned with Verlinden’s procedure are not among those who took part in the incident itself. They include the second in command of the federal police and the former head of the airport police, both of whom have moved to other functions, together with the officer who was in charge of airport police at Charleroi at the time of the incident.

Verlinden’s decision was welcomed by Franky Demon (CD&V), who had asked the original parliamentary question.

Some disciplinary officers are waiting for the legal proceedings to be over, but not the minister,” he said.

It is good that she is ready to intervene quickly if she deems it necessary, as has happened here. The truth must come out, and those who did not perform properly must be punished, not only by the judicial authorities but also the disciplinary ones.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times