On October 14, 2011, on a Friday, George-Dan Bălan, 38, living in Bucharest in sector 2, recently returned from work abroad, was in a small restaurant in Colentina neighborhood, at 5 minutes walk from the Police Station no. 7, with his partner Victoria. About 7.30 p.m., Victoria left for the hospital, where one of the couple’s two children was in care. Dan Bălan remained at the restaurant and phoned a cousin of his – Cristina – whom he invited to come over. Before the cousin arrived, a brawl took place between Bălan and members of the restaurant staff, who accused him of stealing a client’s handbag. Someone from the restaurant called 112.
George-Dan Bălan was retained by two public order officers from Station no. 7 on the evening of October 14, under the accusation of attempted theft. The next day, he was brought before a prosecutor, and then before a judge, who issued a 29 day arrest warrant. The appeal against preventive arrest was judged on Wednesday, October 19, in the morning. A few hours later, Bălan died in police custody. The death certificate noted: septic shock on a background of purulent pleural effusion. When the present report was published, the results of the necropsy had not yet been communicated to the family of the deceased.
As part of its investigation, APADOR-CH talked to four persons who met Dan Bălan after the restaurant incident, before his death. Moreover, the representatives of the Association went to Police Station no. 7, which had been in the meanwhile closed for renovation, as well as to the headquarters of the Preventive Arrest and Retention Service subordinated to the Bucharest General Police Direction (George Georgescu Street), where they talked to one of the doctors and tried to obtain information on the whereabouts of the both Section 7 police staff and detainees arrested at the same time as Dan Bălan. Also, the representatives of APADOR-CH visited Police Section no. 9, where two policemen and a detainee had been transferred from Section 7. The policemen could not be contacted, because they were on vacation.
The representatives of APADOR-CH also tried to discuss with the person who made the theft complaint, but the person did not want to provide any information.
The four persons who met Dan Bălan during the six days between the restaurant incident and his death told APADOR-CH the following:
1. Cristina, George-Dan Bălan’s cousin
Cristina arrived in front of the restaurant around 8.30 p.m. and saw Bălan trying to come out the front door, which was blocked by a man in white uniform, surely an employee. In a few seconds, Bălan started running inside the restaurant and Cristina, knowing the place, realized he was trying to get to the back exit, then through the garage yard on an alley next door. Therefore the woman ran to the end of the alley and saw two policemen who had put Bălan on the ground, handcuffed him and were kicking him. Then they picked him up, took him back to the restaurant, where they squeezed him under a table in front of the entrance, his hands and feet cuffed, and placed their feet on top of him. This is how the first part of the “investigation” took place. The police took statements from the staff, witnesses and the plaintiff. Cristina left the restaurant after calling Victoria to tell her what had happened.
Cristina never saw Dan Bălan again. She was summoned to the Prosecutor’s Office as an eyewitness and, for more than two hours, she was interrogated about details she could not remember (what were the aggressive policemen wearing, for instance).
2. Victoria, George-Dan Bălan’s partner
After being alerted by Cristina, Victoria reached Police Station no. 7 around 9.00 p.m., and after waiting for almost one hour, she was told by a policeman that an investigation was ongoing and advised to go home and come back the next day. Victoria left the police Station, and, after hours of discussions with relatives and friends, found a lawyer who accepted to represent Bălan. Victoria arrived back at the Police Station around midnight, accompanied by solicitor Ciprian Şoldea. One hour later, the solicitor came out of the meeting room and told her that Bălan was feeling sick and that he had told him he had been beaten by both restaurant staff and policemen. The next morning, Victoria saw Bălan for a couple of minutes when he was brought to the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Sector 2 Court of First Instance. She then noticed that he had difficulty walking and the blood stains on his collar (also confirmed by the lawyer). She didn’t have a chance to talk to him, just like the previous night. On Monday, October 17, Victoria received a phone call from her partner who asked her to bring some Ben Gay ointment and another medicine, Ketonal. On Wednesday, October 19, after his appeal against arrest was denied, the lawyer told her on the phone that she could visit him at the custody facility. The woman bought the necessary things, including food, and arrived at the Police Station around 1 p.m. Se asked to visit her partner, but was told to wait. While the visit was being repeatedly put off, she found out from a policeman that Bălan had been taken to the hospital “with a 17 cm tube in his leg”. Around 4.00 p.m. another policeman told her that “the husband did not wish to have visits”, and that she should make a list of what she brought and go home. Victoria found it hard to believe that Bălan did not want to talk to her and insisted to see him, at least through the door, and hear directly from him that he renounced his right to visitation. She was not allowed to and therefore she made the required list. Her insistences and the list took at least 30 minutes. Therefore Victoria left the Police Station around 4.30 p.m. A few hours later, she learned from friends that they announced on TV George-Dan Bălan’s death in police custody. Although the news was already public, the first answer she received from the officer on duty at Police Station no. 7 was “we don’t know anything, call later”. Victoria went back to the police facility, where a person in plain clothes who recommended himself as “the chief of the police station” confirmed the death and told her he was going to inform her about it on the next day, when he was in possession of the death certificate.
On the day of the funeral, Victoria received a phone call from the police, to come and pick the deceased’s personal effects – which proved to be just the money in his wallet. The rest, she was told, was taken for “examination”. The body of the deceased had arrived from the Forensic Institute already dressed, so she could not see whether it showed traces of beating. On the way to the cemetery, the funerary convoy passed by Police Station no. 7, which was heavily guarded.
Victoria said that, until the October 14 incident, George-Dan Bălan had never had any health problems. He had never been in a civilian hospital. The only exception was his stay at the Jilava Penitentiary Hospital, on suspicion of TB. Ever since, he never required treatment or hospitalization. Under such circumstances, the purulent pleural effusion mentioned by the death certificate seems hard to explain by a previous condition.
3. Solicitor Şoldea
On Friday to Saturday, when the lawyer came into the investigation room (around midnight), George-Dan Bălan was already writing his holograph statement. Obviously, this was the statement preceding his bringing into custody, and therefore the presence of a lawyer was mandatory, from the very beginning, but it did not happen. The lawyer noticed the bad state of his client, his incoherent speech, his strangely ruffled clothes and a few drops of blood on his collar. The next day, the lawyer met Dan Bălan on his way to the Prosecutor, where he could not stand on his feet and needed to lie down on a bench. He could not lie down either, and required help from the lawyer and a policeman to sit back up again. The Sector 2 Court of First Instance decided he was to be held under preventive arrest and Bălan was taken back to the custody facility.
The lawyer saw him again on Wednesday, October 19, 2011, when Bălan was brought before the Court to appeal against the arrest warrant. Şoldea said that Bălan was in such a bad state that the tree-judge panel allowed him to sit during the whole session. The lawyer said ever since the first night when he assisted Bălan, it was clear that his physical and mental state was serious and that the deterioration of his health was more than obvious on the day of the appeal. He also said he had received unofficial information that the necropsy examination at the Forensic Institute was recorded on video in its entirety.
4. D.B., Bălan’s room mate at the custody facility
On the night of October 14 to15, 2011, after the retention ordinance was issued, Bălan was taken, around 3.00-3.30 a.m., to room 3 of the custody facility at Police Station no. 7. Among other detainees there was D.B., on preventive arrest, whom APADOR-CH found a few days after the events at the Police Station no. 9 facility. D.B. claimed that Bălan could hardly breathe, that he complained of pain all over his body and that, most of the time, he was incoherent – and this state lasted during his whole stay in the facility. D.B. said that on the next day, on Saturday, October 15, 2011, Bălan was taken to Court ((between 9.00 a.m. and 2.00 p.m.) and that he had a lot of difficulty walking. D.B. also said that Dan Bălan was taken to the “hospital” (as far as APADOR-CH knows, that means the DGPMB medical ward) on Monday morning.
About October 19, 2011(the day of the death), D.B. only knew that when he came back from court, Bălan was taken out of the facility again and, at the request of one of the facility chefs, was taken to Floreasca Hospital. He returned around 2.30-3.00 p.m. with a hand and a leg in plaster! Then he went to the bathroom, and started to vomit. Around 5.00 p.m., the agents took him outside, in the facility yard, where he died.
The medical pathway of George-Dan Bălan
Putting together information from witnesses and from the doctor at the Preventive Arrest and Retention Service, APADOR-CH re-traced the following path:
On the night of October 14 to 15, 2011, before being brought to the facility, Bălan went, around 2.00 a.m., through the medical examination at the medical ward of the DGPMB, on George Georgescu Street. It must be said that during the night, the ward is overseen by a nurse, not by a doctor, and most of the time the exam is only a formality. It is clear that Bălan’s state of health continued to deteriorate on Saturday and Sunday, October 15 and 16. The duty of the chief of custody – as well as of the chief of Police Station no. 7 – was to take Bălan back to the medical ward of the Preventive Arrest and Retention Service, where one of the three doctors was sure to be on duty. And if none of the doctors was available (if that was the case, APADOR-CH asks to know why), the policemen had the duty to call an ambulance. By doing nothing, they showed negligence towards the physical and mental state of a person under their custody.
Only on Monday, October 17, 2011, was Bălan taken to the medical ward in George Georgescu Street, where triage and medical assistance is provided for arrestees in Bucharest. This time, he was seen by a doctor, who also failed to notice any special problems except a few bruises, who did not consider he needed a specialist exam and who prescribed him ointments and anti-inflammatory medication. On the same day, the detainee called his partner and asked her to bring the prescribed items on her first visit. During his discussion with the representatives of APADOR-CH at the Preventive Arrest and Retention Service, after the death of the detainee, the doctor confirmed he had seen the man.
On October 19, 2011, during the appeal, Bălan’s state was so obviously deteriorated that the judges allowed him to sit during the proceedings (see above the statement of solicitor Şoldea). The escort supposedly took him from Court directly to the University Hospital, where the doctors supposedly noted a thoracic and abdominal contusion, without any treatment and/or recommendations. The sure thing is that the detainee was brought back to the facility and shortly after was taken back to hospital, this time to the Floreasca Emergency Hospital, but solely to the orthopedics section. That is to say, Bălan was not submitted to any other exams (such as pulmonary X-ray, examination of the vital organs in the abdomen) which could have identified in due time the acute condition that eventually led to his death. APADOR-CH suspects that the essential medial exams for Dan Bălan’s life were not taken for fear they might reveal signs of the brutality of policemen while he was being led to the station and maybe also afterwards. He only had one leg and one arm placed in plaster, according to D.B. Brought back to the facility, he died around 5.00 p.m.
On November 9, 2011, two representatives of APADOR-CH went to Police Station no. 7, to visit the facility. They were told the facility had been closed for renovation (?) five days earlier and that most detainees had been transferred to Police Station no. 9. The staff had also been moved to different custody facilities across Bucharest.
APADOR-CH asks the Preventive Arrest and Retention Service subordinated to the DGPMB and Police Station no. 7 the following questions:
a) Have the two agents who restrained and beat George-Dan Bălan been identified? Are they being investigated by the Prosecutor’s Office? Have any disciplinary measures been taken, and if so, what are they? How could one legally define the time spent by Bălan, handcuffed, under the table in the restaurant, while policemen took statements from the staff and the victim of the theft (in fact, theft attempt) and other witnesses?
b) Why had Bălan started to write his holograph statement in the absence of a lawyer?
c) Who signed the retention ordinance for Bălan? What is the time mentioned on the document?
d) Why didn’t the chiefs of the facility and of the Police station send the detainee to the doctor on October 15 or 16, or, as a last resort, why didn’t they call 112?
e) On October 19, after the appeal, was Bălan taken to the hospital directly from Court? Which hospital? What were the recommendations/conclusions of the doctor who saw him?
f) Who decided that Bălan needed to be taken at the Floreasca Emergency Hospital, to the orthopedics section? Were there any signs he might have had fractured members? Was it the recommendations of a doctor? When he returned to the facility, did he have a leg in plaster? An arm? Both?
The answers to the questions above would help clarifying a few misty details. But in essence, APADOR-CH considers that George-Dan Bălan was the victim of torture, followed by death, due to lack of life-saving medical care provided promptly and competently. The highest responsibility lies with the policemen, who answer for the physical and mental health of persons under their custody. The fact that Bălan was taken to the doctor only on Monday, October 17 (during the night of 14 to15, Friday to Saturday, he had been seen only by a nurse) and that he was taken to two hospitals a few hours before his death shows that policemen violated George-Dan Bălan right to life.
Public order policemen who retained him in the first place, should have led him to the police station, not restrain him in the restaurant, and so much the less under a table. They therefore violated the provisions of Law no. 218/2002 on leading suspects to the police station (provisions already highly disputable, in APADOR-CH’s opinion, but that is another topic). From that point of view, the period between Bălan’s handcuffing and his being brought in at the station has all the indications of an illegal deprivation of freedom. The same policemen are responsible for inhuman treatment against Bălan (hitting him after he was handcuffed and could no longer represent a danger, squeezing him under a table with hands and probably feet cuffed).
Also to be mentioned is the violation of the right to legal defense (the absence of a lawyer when the suspect started writing his holograph statement) and, implicitly, of the right to a fair trial.
Manuela Stefănescu Maria-Nicoleta Andreescu