Prague, Czech Republic – Czech police dismissed allegations that officers were responsible for the death of a Roma man last June.
An autopsy expert ruled this week that 46-year-old Stanislav Tomas died of “meth intoxication”.
The death of the 46-year-old Roma man in June sparked a backlash among the local Roma community and minority rights activists, with many drawing parallels with the case of George Floyd in the United States last year.
Stanislav Tomas was arrested in June in the northern city of Teplice by police officers called to the scene when bystanders saw two men attacking each other and assaulting people’s cars.
According to a police statement, one of the men quickly became aggressive when officers approached him.
Video footage of the arrest was widely shared on social media, sparking anger and accusations of police brutality and disproportionate use of force by some of the arresting officers. In one of the videos, one police officer can be seen kneeling on M. Tomas’ chest and neck for several minutes.
He collapsed in the ambulance and died shortly after.
The fateful incident caused a backlash among Roma activists, who accused Czech police of excessive use of force against the 46-year-old Roma man and of trying to cover up the responsibility of the officers involved in the arrest.
Many local and international organisations, including the Council of Europe and Amnesty International, called for a thorough and independent investigation into “the circumstances of this tragic incident.”
Police officials, supported by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Interior Minister Jan Hamacek, have denied the allegations, pointing to a post-mortem autopsy that found the man suffered from “pathological changes to the coronary arteries”, probably caused by amphetamine use.
“The expert report concludes that there is no connection between the police intervention and the man’s death,” Czech police from the Usti nad Labem region said in a statement this week. “The death was directly causally linked to methamphetamine intoxication.”
Many remain unconvinced, and the family of Stanislav Tomas have reportedly filed a criminal complaint against the three officers.
“If he was already arrested with his hands cuffed behind his back, why were they kneeling on him for the next three minutes? That’s something I don’t understand,” Michal Miko of Romanonet told the BBC.
Gathering under the banner “Roma Lives Matter”, activists are questioning the official police reports of an incident set against the backdrop of systemic discrimination and marginalisation of the local Roma community.
An estimated 300,000 Roma live in the Czech Republic today.