On Feb. 5 at 06:00, someone started banging on the door of a bachelor flat rented by Piotr D. in the Bielany district of Warsaw. The sleepy man looked through the peephole and saw antiterrorists shouting at him to open the door or otherwise they would pry it open. Piotr instinctively opened the door. One of the policemen hit him on the back. “I fled for a few meters and fell down. Afterwards I was pressed to the floor and handcuffed” Piotr told the daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.
His fiance was hit on her head while lying in bed because she asked questions. Both of them were terrified and were trembling. Then officers of the Central Criminal Investigation Agency checked identities and unchained the man.
It turned out that the confrontation was a mistake. Policemen told the shocked couple that they were looking for a gang of murderers believed to be hiding in the flat. “Suddenly I felt pain in my spine,” Piotr said. “I complained to the policemen, but they responded disrespectfully: ‘You may go to the swimming pool once or twice and you will recover’ and ‘You will recover until your wedding.’ They did not even say: ‘We are sorry.'”
Piotr visited a doctor and was X-rayed. In the evening the doctor phoned and said that Piotr must visit an orthopedist because his spine was probably broken. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital next day. Magnetic resonance examination showed that he had three broken vertebrae. Piotr will have to wear a corset for the next two months. Then he may face several years of rehabilitation. He may never recover completely.
“I realized that the police intervention could end with my death or a lifelong disability,” Piotr said with a trembling voice. The Main Police Station does not feel guilty.
“We expected dangerous bandits there, so the order was: Get in with power,” said the detective superintendent, Zbigniew Urbanski. The policemen who took part in that action said Piotr did not complain. “I was too shocked” to complain, Piotr said.
Then the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights stepped in. In HFHR’s opinion the police intervention violated the third article of the European Convention of Human Rights.
“The pursuing organization cannot use physical power which causes serious injury, even if the police did make a recognition mistake,” said Poitr Kladoczy, a foundation lawyer. “Unfortunately, brutal detentions are reported to the foundation more and more often.”
Kladoczy also thinks that victims of police violence are afraid of making their cases public. “They are afraid of future contacts with the same policemen. They do not believe that court procedures would be effective and that any trial would last for several years.”
The human rights organization Amnesty International reported in 2003 that in addition to home violence, police violence is one of the main problems of Poland. The most common victims of police are prostitutes and Gypsies, the report said. In particularly difficult situations are those who experienced police violence behind the walls of a police station and as a consequence do not have any witnesses.
“Court records show that a person beaten at a police station has almost no chance to claim his or her rights and prove that they suffered wrongs,” said Mariusz N., a philosopher and ethnologist from Krakow. “The prosecutor”s office takes the entire police testimony as true and undisputable. We have here a silent assumption of truthfulness of a policeman regardless of the fact that it is he who is suspected.”
“I saw it for myself,” Mariusz said. “In spite of me and my girlfriend being severely beaten at a police station in Krasnystaw, we didn”t have any chance to win the trial. Policemen separated us and beat us in the presence of other policemen. We did not have any witness who would confirm all that had really taken place.”
“Similar experiences were common during the Communist era in Poland. In the opinions of the police and prosecutor, the injuries verified by medical examination were self-inflicted by the detainees themselves.”