A man tries to steal a backpack and is arrested. 25 hours later, the Algerian is dead. What happened?
Why did a young man die in police custody in Erfurt? Photo: Martin Schutt/dpa
At the kiosk there are those with bratwurst, those with plenty of time, and on Friday last week there is also a backpack, which is where it all begins. It is early evening, a man approaches the stand. He tries to steal the backpack. The owner of the backpack notices him and fights back. Officers of the federal police arrive. They take the suspect to the police station, which is only a few steps away from the snack bar. Twenty-five hours later, the man is dead.
What happened. On Tuesday, the third day after the man’s death, the Erfurt public prosecutor’s office sends out a press release. "The public prosecutor’s office and the Erfurt criminal investigation department are investigating an unnatural death," it says. And at a later point: "Histological and chemical-toxicological examinations have been ordered to clarify the cause of death. These will take some time."
The public prosecutor’s office describes the course of events as follows: Officers of the Federal Police had observed a theft in front of a snack bar at around 5:30 p.m., temporarily arrested a man and brought him to their office. There they found that the man had entered Germany without permission. And they find a large quantity of drugs: Drugs that addicts take when they want to go through withdrawal – so-called drug substitutes. Therefore, an emergency doctor was called in, who confirmed that the man was fit for custody.
The officers questioned the arrested man, who repeatedly fell asleep. Later, the prosecutor’s office orders to let the man go. The officers had decided not to wake him up. He had also been checked several times. In the middle of the night, the police finally discover that his vital functions have stopped. They resuscitate him and he is taken to hospital. There he dies around 6:30 p.m., Saturday.
A man dies in the care of the police, and all that remains of him are a few key data. Algerian. 32 years old. No name. No picture. The person behind the data has disappeared.
No initial suspicion against police officers
Sabine Berninger, spokeswoman for refugee policy and member of the Thuringian state parliament’s justice committee, has questions she wants to take to the justice committee. "The man should have been released immediately after the order of the public prosecutor’s office," she says. Berninger wants to know: Was the man informed of his rights? In which language, actually? Was an interpreter present? And was he allowed to take his medication? Sabine Berninger is a member of a commission of inquiry of the Thuringian state parliament that deals with institutional racism. She is interested in whether the 32-year-old Algerian was dealt with properly.
Federal police sources say that everyone is affected by the case. Some officers are in care, they say. According to the public prosecutor’s office, the officers who were on duty that night have already been questioned. Their preliminary conclusion: there was "no initial suspicion of criminally relevant action by individual participants."
Wednesday, the fourth day after the death of the 32-year-old. Back to the snack bar on the outskirts of Erfurt station, back to the place where the deceased was a person for the last time. It is hot, the rush for bratwurst at lunchtime nevertheless large. A snack vendor who witnessed the incident last Friday is also there.
He seemed strange, she says. Did he come here often? No. When he tried to steal, the owner of the backpack immediately caught him and "kicked his ass. Then the police arrived. She doesn’t tell what happened after that, she has to go on.
Difficult search for answers
With an ongoing investigation, it is difficult to get information. Now, however, the criminal investigation department is investigating federal police officers. They have to make reports after missions. Federal police circles have learned what is written in them: The 32-year-old Algerian had drugs with him, just under ten different ones. There were no indications in the report from that evening that these were not intended for personal use. But also no indications that the man was under the influence of drugs. This was confirmed by the emergency doctor who was called in.
Six weeks in the east: Before the state elections in Saxony on September 1, 2019, the taz was in Dresden. Since July 22, we were on the ground with our own editorial team. We are or were also very close in Brandenburg and Thuringia before the state elections with our #tazost focus – on https://teslon.ru, Instagram, Facebook and Periscope. Our journalists write and talk about their latest experiences on the Ostblog and Ostcast. Accompanying the reporting, there are taz talks in Frankfurt (Oder), Dresden, Wurzen and Grimma. All information about taz Ost can be found at https://teslon.ru/ost.
The man appeared to be overtired, according to police sources. Because the 32-year-old Algerian had repeatedly fallen asleep during the questioning, the federal police officers had applied to the public prosecutor’s office for an expedited procedure. But they refused and ordered his release in the middle of the night. But the officers decided to let him sleep. At times, someone sat in front of his cell to watch him. Sometimes, they would have checked on him, more often than required. They note that he snores. Finally, at 3:35 a.m., the officers would have noticed that the man was no longer breathing. They begin to resuscitate him, call the emergency doctor. The public prosecutor’s office, on the other hand, says in its press release that this had already happened at 3:15 a.m.
Christian Meinhold, a spokesman for the federal police, says, "We do have people working for us who say that would be inhumane to kick him out now." And, "Suppose we had woken him up, in the middle of the night. Said, out, the main thing is to get you out of our responsibility, and then he would have died – what would have happened then?"
Meinhold’s sentences convey that any behavior would have been wrong. There is institutional racism within the police. Now something fatal actually happened in this case. A human being is dead.
Who is looking for the person behind the case?
There are contradictions in this case that cannot be resolved at this time. And many unanswered questions: did the man know he could have left? Was he locked in? Did he have access to the medication he might have needed? Could he have overdosed? He was provided with something that was not harmful to him, the federal police vaguely say.
This text comes from the taz am wochenende. Always from Saturday on the kiosk, in the eKiosk, in the practical weekend subscription and around the clock on Facebook and Twitter.
Call to the public prosecutor’s office on Friday, day six after the death. His medication was not accessible to him when he was in the cell, says senior prosecutor Hannes Grunseisen. You can’t leave someone alone with a lot of medication. But, of course, he was taken care of. When asked how investigations have been conducted since the officers were questioned, Grunseisen refers to the toxicological result, which still has to be awaited. And says: "Or say, what should we do instead?"
A dead body without a name. Too many unanswered questions. Surely someone should be looking for the person behind the case?
The Refugee Council also wonders who the 32-year-old Algerian was. Addiction counseling centers, a counseling center for victims of racism, an organization of critical refugees – no one knows the man. A man from Algeria works in a pizzeria not far from the train station. His family had called him, he said, as had other Algerians from around the country. They all wanted to know: Which one of us died? "But I don’t know him," he says.