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Police fined for harming teenager

The court found the police tactic of taking the victim to a forest outside the city was illegal Keystone

A Swiss district court has imposed suspended fines on two Lausanne police officers for their treatment of a young Eritrean. Aged 16 at the time, the victim was taken from the city to a forest and given a dose of pepper spray.

The court in Yverdon-les-Bains handed down the suspended fines to the officers on Friday, saying the victim’s statements were “largely credible”, although contradictions about the case remained.

The court said there was “sufficient evidence” that the officers were guilty of abusing their authority and causing bodily harm. However it qualified their action as “light”, considering the circumstances.

The incident happened in the early hours of January 1, 2006. The teenager had been drinking and, according to the defence, had provoked the police.  

He was taken close to the Sauvabelin woods near Lausanne as a way of quickly removing him from the city centre and to prevent crowds from gathering while the police intervened.

Judge Eric Eckert said that in this case the police tactic was “illegal” and “disproportionate”. “The rules clearly state that minors should be taken home, not to the woods.” 

Canton Vaud public prosecutor Eric Cottier told the court the police practice of removing troublemakers from city centres could be justified in certain cases but needed to be legally backed up and its limits spelled out.

The police denied using pepper spray on the victim, a claim he had made a few days after the incident happened. The court said it was “certain” that the pepper spray use and the trip to the forest had taken place. Three former police officers testified as such during the case.

“Thank you”

It was the third time that the case had gone before a court, with the police having been acquitted previously by cantonal and federal courts.

“After a six-and-a-half-year battle the Vaud court has finally found that I did not make this up. I thank them from the bottom of my heart,” said the victim after the verdict.

A lawyer for one of the police said an appeal was likely to be lodged. Disappointed in the outcome, he said it was surprising considering the practice of removing offenders was something “officers had been taught”.

The police officer who used the pepper spray was handed a higher 20-day suspended fine, while the other was given ten-day suspended fine.

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