Have you ever hit a cop?

A Viennese police officer is said to have mistreated a homeless woman

Vienna - In February 2018, a supervisor of an emergency shelter for the homeless of Volkshilfe in Vienna-Donaustadt called the police. She was overwhelmed with dealing with a client and hoped for help from the officers. Two policemen arrived at the night quarters just before five in the morning.

The supervisor raises serious allegations about the behavior of the police officers: "As soon as the officers entered the door, they complained that they had to come here at all," said the official complaint to the appropriate authorities of the Vienna police, which the STANDARD is present. "I was told that I should 'expose' her (the client, note) myself," writes the Volkshilfe supervisor.

Beaten with garment

What happened next is documented by a surveillance camera in the neighborhood, the recording of which was also secured by the police: an officer beat the homeless woman. According to the supervisor, it was a slap in the face. The public prosecutor speaks to the STANDARD of a "light blow to the back of the head".

Three minutes later, the officer took a piece of clothing and hit the client again with it. In her complaint, the witness wrote that he had "pulled out all the stops and 'pulled through'" and hit the client "more than hard". The "blow to the body with a piece of clothing" is confirmed by the public prosecutor.

The complainant stated that the woman sat quietly in her armchair and was not aggressive. In response to the charge that it was police violence, the officer is said to have replied: "Yes, what else can you do in such a case, I did nothing." The second official did not intervene. It was "ethically not justifiable" to send the client along with the officials after the incidents, according to the complaint.

Temporary suspension of both officials lifted

On February 22nd, the day of the incident, the complaint was officially received by the Vienna State Police Department at 6:41 a.m. Exactly three hours later, the Special Investigation Unit was entrusted with the case. The following day the case became known to the Ministry of the Interior. This emerges from the answer to a parliamentary question from Neos MP Stephanie Krisper by Interior Minister Herbert Kickl (FPÖ).

The day after the incident, both officers were suspended from duty, and a disciplinary complaint was filed three days later. An officer was suspended a month later. An oral disciplinary hearing against both defendants took place in June, during which the second official's suspension was lifted. At first it was not known whether there would be any consequences apart from the temporary suspension. To date, no statement has been received from the Vienna State Police Directorate.

The Ministry of the Interior has since announced that one officer has received a fine as a disciplinary punishment (a fine of up to half a month's salary) and the other a fine (one to five months' salary). Who received which punishment could not be named for "reasons of data protection law". Both are still in the police force.

The public prosecutor immediately closed the case

The day after the incident, the Public Prosecutor's Office received a report on the incident from the Special Investigation Unit. On the same day, she dropped the case against the officer who hit the client.

Less than a month later, the public prosecutor's office also "refrained from initiating investigations against the other official". The public prosecutor justified the delay of one month with the other colleague with "internal reasons".

No questioning

The public prosecutor said that the officials were questioned "not in writing". The victim could not be traced. According to the Ministry of the Interior, there were further "two allegations of abuse dating back almost 20 and more than 20 years, each of which was discontinued by the public prosecutor."

Neos member of the National Council Stephanie Krisper criticizes the events. "As a rule, our security officers carry out their work conscientiously. But if there is disproportionate police violence, then it is extremely important for the victims, the trust of the population in the rule of law and also for all committed police officers that the perpetrators receive an appropriate punishment "says Krisper.

Conviction in another case in June

Only in June there was a trial against a Viennese police officer who slapped a homeless person in an accommodation in Penzing. In this case, prosecutors brought charges of assault and the man was sentenced to five months conditionally. Two officers who did nothing about the acts and who did not report them later were charged with abuse of authority by omission. These procedures were carried out on a diverse basis. The public prosecutor's office sees the case at that time and the current case differently, a spokeswoman tells STANDARD.

"The few cases that become public show that there is something wrong in the executive's proceedings. And in the present case you can see that the public prosecutor's office does not always act in the same way. In the interests of the rule of law, improvements urgently need to be made here," says Krisper.

It is repeatedly criticized that cases of mistreatment by police officers rarely end up in court and are convicted. Experts also demand that allegations of abuse be investigated not internally by the police but by an independent body. In 2016, according to the security report, the public prosecutor's offices recorded 495 commenced cases nationwide in connection with allegations of abuse against organs of the security authorities. In 18 cases there was a criminal complaint or indictment. (Vanessa Gaigg, 8/20/2018)

The article has been updated to include information from the Home Office regarding disciplinary sanctions for both officers.