Report on the police custody facility attached to Police Station no. 9 in Bucharest – the Florin Urzică case-

Wednesday - 14 March 2012
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On March 6, 2012, two representatives of APADOR-CH visited the custody facility attached to Police Station no. 9, in the 2nd district of Bucharest. The main purpose of the visit was to meet, Florin Urzică, whose case was brought to the attention of the Association by a close friend of his, who visited Urzică after his arrest and claimed that policemen beat him until “they broke his neck”.

During their visit, the representatives of APADOR-CH talked to Florin Urzică, to other detainees, to the facility staff, and analyzed the changes in detention conditions after their previous visit to the facility, on November 9, 2011. Also in connection with the Urzică case, the representatives of the Association tried to contact a security agent who had witnessed one of the violent episodes, but found that he was out of town. They also asked verbal information from the registry office of Police Station no. 9 regarding the time and date when Florin Urzică was brought in, but the agent on duty refused to provide the information, saying he was obeying orders from the chief of the station. On March 12, the representatives of the Association went back to Police Station no. 9, where they talked to the chief of the custody facility, to clarify some aspects of the case.

In what concerns detention conditions, they were slightly improved in comparison with the Association’s previous visit. One improvement consisted of moving the phone (which had been out of order on November 9) from the agents’ office to the corridor. Detainees are now supervised during their conversation by the agent who oversees the exercise yard, from a position that ensures, at least theoretically, the confidentiality of phone calls. Another improvement noted on the March 12 visit was the stricter observance of the secret of correspondence. The mobile mail box is now taken to each room, so that detainees are able to post their letters personally, and the mailman goes personally to the underground to pick up the mail.

 

Until the previous visit, on March 6, detainees had to hand their envelopes to the agents, who introduced them in the box, and then took the box upstairs for the mailman to empty. The intermediary role of agents has been eliminated, which means an extra guarantee of the confidentiality of correspondence.

The rest of the findings made by APADOR-CH, as well as the recommendations of the 2011 report were still valid. Essentially: rooms were small and lacking natural light (a still unsolved problem, also noted in the 2010 Report of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture – CPT); food, provided by the Rahova Penitentiary, was very poor; the facility did not provide any kind of hygiene and sanitary materials; visits took place in degrading conditions, with no confidentiality. Moreover, like in most custody facilities, handcuffing detainees each time they leave the place is a current practice, instead of being the exception, as the law requires.

The report of the previous visit is available at http://www.apador.org/show_report_nf.php?id=229 .

 

The Florin Urzică case

On February 29, 2012, Florin Urzică, 42, recently released from prison, was on a street in the National Arena area in Bucharest when, around 10.30-11.00, he was put to the ground and hit by three persons who, as revealed later, were policemen from Police Station no. 9. According to Florin Urzică, they did not ask for an ID nor showed any credentials of their own. Two of them simply held him still on the sidewalk while a third hit him with his tonfa and kicked him, under the eyes of colleagues, but also of passers-by. Eventually, Urzică was handcuffed and “led” to the station in Pantelimon neighborhood. There, he was hit again, by the same policeman (Urzică does not know his name or rank, but as a distinctive sign, he wore a moustache). Urzică claims that at the station he was told why he had been deprived of freedom: the theft of a mobile phone. Urzică claims that he bought the phone from a person whose name he didn’t know, but whom he was able to identify. The purpose of the beating was, according to him, to make him take the blame for several crimes left unsolved.

According to Florin Urzică, he was left on the corridor, in cuffs, for several hours (more precisely 8 hours and 30 minutes, as shown by the retention ordinance signed by the prosecutor for 24 hours, from which the time spent there after being “led to the station” was deducted). During this time, he says, the policemen ate and drank inside the station, in memory of a deceased colleague. APADOR-CH considers that keeping a person, against which excessive force was used with no justification, handcuffed for over 8 hours on a corridor, is tantamount to inhuman and degrading treatment.

The only things that happened during this time was that Urzică signed a document without knowing what it represented and that a public defense attorney arrived, but the suspect never saw her again, neither at the tribunal (when the arrest warrant was issued) nor in court (at the appeal against preventive arrest).

In the evening, at 8.00 p.m., Urzică was taken to the prosecutor’s office, where a retention ordinance was issued. Because he felt increasingly ill, complaining of acute pain in his head, neck and the right side of the body, the prosecutor’s office called an ambulance. He was administered an injection, the ambulance left, but was called again by the same institution shortly after. Urzică was taken to the University Emergency Hospital in Bucharest, where he was seen by different specialist doctors (eye, neurosurgery, orthopedics and emergency doctors). They noted a haematoma on his left eye, trauma with excoriation of the right thigh and crus, a contusion in the renal area, and, what was worse, a strong contusion on the neck, which required a cervical collar. Two of the medical charts filled in the hospital mention the statement of the detainee, that he had been beaten in the morning of February 29 (around 11.00 a.m., as the neurosurgery chart mentions). At 3.00 a.m. on the night of February 29- March 1, Urzică was taken to the DGPMB (Bucharest Police Direction) medical ward, where he was most probably seen by a nurse. Urzică reached the custody facility around 3.15 a.m. and, according to his detainee file, was placed in room no. 1 at 3.30. The trip from the DGPMB medical ward to the Pantelimon station takes about 10 minutes in very low traffic. The conclusion of the Association was that the medical examination lasted only 5 or 6 minutes, which shows superficiality – to say the least – on the part of DGPMB medical staff, in charge with seeing all suspects from Bucharest before they are brought to custody facilities.

When he was brought in, Urzică told the chief of the facility that he had been beaten by the policemen and, according to the chief of custody, the fact was mentioned in the file. The representatives of the Association cannot say whether the file also retained the wording “by policemen”, or simply mentions aggression prior to arrival into custody.

On March 1, Florin Urzică was taken once again to the DGPMB medical ward, where he was seen by a doctor, who prescribed painkillers and an antibiotic. On the same evening, the detainee asked to be seen by a doctor again, because his nose bled. An agent took him right away to the Pantelimon Hospital, which is right next to the police station. Urzică claims that while he was waiting in the on-call room, the policeman who had beaten him the day before (the mustachioed one) burst in, took him out on the corridor, where the agent was waiting, and went in to discuss (?) with the doctor on duty. It is not clear whether the policeman took any paperwork filled by the doctor or what was said inside that office. The incredible action of the policeman took place in view of the agent. A coincidence or not, the latter was out of town for a longer period of time, for a training course, so the representatives of the Association were unable to talk to him.

On March 5, when the representatives of APADOR-CH first talked to the detainee, he was still wearing the cervical collar (he was going to be re-examined 15 days after receiving the brace), had a blue and swollen left eye and several traces of blows on the right leg. Moreover, he complained of strong headaches and pain in the neck, which did not respond even to strong painkillers)

Florin Urzică asked the chiefs of the facility to take him to a forensic doctor, but it was not possible because he could not pay the legal fee for the exam.

The detainee said he wrote complaints about the ill treatment he was submitted to while he was retained, on February 29, as well as about the intimidation and threats from the aggressor. One of the complaints was submitted to the chief of the retention and preventive arrest service of the DGPMB and the second to the chief of Police Station no. 9.

It must be also said that upon leaving the station, the representatives of the Association stopped at the registry office for information on the time when Urzică was brought in, according to the special registry book. The request was deny on grounds it was a work secret. The requested information did not fall under the provisions of Law no. 182/2002 on the protection of classified information. According to that law, work secrets are “information whose release is of nature to cause prejudice to a public-law or private-law legal person”. There is no reason to consider that disclosing the time when a detainee was brought in could harm any legal person. The only grounds for not releasing such information from the facility registry book could be the ones stipulated under article 12, par. 1 letter d and e of Law no. 544/2001, but these are not applicable to the current case. More exactly, the protection of personal data (letter d) cannot be invoked because it was the detainee himself who made a public complaint and agreed to talk to the Association and who was told from the very beginning that this report would be a public document. Letter e is not applicable either, because the mere disclosure of the time when Urzică arrived at the station cannot endanger the results of any criminal or disciplinary investigation. The only explanation for withholding the information might be the secretiveness still marring the Romanian Police.

From the subsequent discussion with the chief of the police station, the representatives of APADOR-CH understood the following:

a)      Florin Urzică was caught red-handed during a break-in. it was not clear whether the suspect had already committed the break-in or was on the point of breaking in. The fact is that  Urzică’s restraining, the tonfa blows and the kicking, as well as handcuffing took place outside, on the sidewalk;

b)     Florin Urzică filed a complaint against the policemen (in fact one policeman, as the two others only “assisted”), who hit him on February 29. The complaint was sent to the chief of the Independent Retention and Preventive Arrest Center of the DGPMB, who had to forward it to the prosecutor’s office. Only when prosecutors take a decision would the police start, if necessary, its own investigation. In other words, during the investigation of the prosecutors, expected to follow, the policemen involved in the case would have no problem continuing to “work” with the public;

c)      The criminal investigation of the alleged crimes committed by Florin Urzică (theft/break-in) is conducted by another policeman than the tree involved in his retention on February 29.

d)     There are at least two controversial aspects of the way recordings are made in the registry book containing the name, date and time of arrivals for people “led” to the police station. First, the registry book is classified as a work secret, as detailed above. Second, the registry contains, according to the commander of police Station no. 9, only information on persons led to the station as witnesses or plaintiffs/subjects of complaints for minor demeanors, such as brawls among neighbors or loud music. If the persons “led” to the station are suspects of crimes (including flagrant offenders), they are not recorded in the registry. Instead, a report is prepared by the same policemen who detained the person, and added to the file. In the Association’s view, there should be a double recording: both a report with the aforementioned information plus the grounds and circumstances that led to the decision to detain the suspect, and a recording of the arrival, irrespective of the reasons. APADOR-CH reminds that the 2010 CPT report recommended creating a unique registry book for all persons who, for one reason or another, end up at the police station, against their will.

 

The Constantin Dinu case

Constantin Dinu of room no. 1 – a room mate of Florin Urzică’s – said that he had also been beaten upon his arrest on February 10, 2012, in Răcari, Dâmboviţa county, by policemen of the car theft department. He said he was in a car that was stopped by the police, that he was taken out of the car, pushed to the ground and repeatedly kicked. He was then taken to the DGPMB medical ward for the medical examination prior to being taken into custody. His face was swollen and he told the person who examined him (probably a nurse) that he had been beaten by the police. A surgical consult was recommended but Constantin Dinu refused, because he was very tired (it was already 4 a.m. on February 11) and he thought he would make a swift comeback. Later, feeling worse, he called the agents of the facility, who took him back to the medical ward and to specialist exams (trauma and neurology). His medical file mentions “Physical aggression outside the custody facility”.

Conclusions:

1.      APADOR-CH asks the prosecutor’s office to investigate with celerity and impartially the credible ill treatment accusations against the policemen at Police Station no. 9, as well as those from Răcari. APADOR-CH reminds that the right not to be subjected to torture, inhuman and degrading treatment is an absolute right. Police may use force only in limited situations, observing the proportionality of the intervention and aiming at restraining the suspect, rather than submitting it to illegal physical punishment. In the case of theft/break-in suspects who do not resist arrest and do not endanger the policemen’s life and limb (see Law no. 218/2002, updated in 2009, Article 34, letter d) the use of force in completely unjustified. APADOR-CH points out that, when faced with credible accusations of treatments in breach with Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, the state authorities are under the obligation to run speedy and detailed investigations, able to find out the perpetrators and hold them responsible;

2.      The two cases presented above (as others, for which APADOR-CH conducted extra-judiciary investigations) demonstrate that the time when persons are “led” to the police station – including the first moments of deprivation of freedom – when they are restrained, be it on the street or in a car – is a highly vulnerable time for suspects. APADOR-CH asks for a strict regulation of the way police operate before the retention ordinance is issued, in order to prevent any abuse from law enforcement agents;

3.      The Association asks for all the persons led to police stations to be recorded in the special registry books, no matter on what grounds they were brought in, and for the registries to be taken out of the work secret category;

4.      APADOR-CH insists that policemen or police agents against whom abuse complaints have been filed and are under investigation by prosecutor’s offices should be removed from public duty until the investigations are finalized;

5.      The Association asks the DGPMB to launch an inquiry into the participation of several policemen to a memorial meal inside Police Station no. 9 on February 29, 2012. The Association also requires explanations regarding the excessive time (8 hours and a half) Florin Urzică was kept on the corridor, in handcuffs.

6.      APADOR-CH asks explanations about the intervention of the policeman at the Pantelimon Hospital, in the on-call room, while the doctor on duty was examining Florin Urzică.

 

 

Manuela Ştefănescu                                                                            Maria-Nicoleta Andreescu