Th, 1.06.2023
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Police «victim» a likely provocateur

Risto Berendson
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Photo: Kaader videost

Passerby’s eye is not always right – to summarise a mid-July conflict at a Tallinn event Cultural Dust (Kultuuritolm).

For the public, the alleged police violence is known via people’s video recordings on the Tallinn Patarei Prison territory. Postimees took a look at the events leading up to the conflict and detected the possibility that those accusing police of excessive violence may have desired to manipulate the public opinion.

Instead of accusing the police on the basis of the recordings and demanding the guilty ones to be punished, I thought it wiser to restore the events that led to the conflict. While some are asking why the police dog was allowed to have his teeth too long in the alleged resister, we do also need to know why the dog was used after all.

Digging for the answers, an altogether different picture was unearthed.

For the police, it all begun by an emergency phone-call in the night of July 13th, which I had the opportunity to hear. The man on the phone was senior Dussmann Security official, whose message was explicit – security staff is having a conflict, in the old Patarei Prison, with eight aggressive people of whom three attacked them. The security workers were forced to use gas, and the fight went on. They also asked for ambulance, as two were hurt. Full stop.

Talking ugly to security

Suspecting a mass fight, the alarm centre issued highest level call to all patrollers in the area. The first on the scene were a team straight from Balti Railway Station, having settled a case of attack over there. The team included two active policemen and an assistant police officer with two years of experience. 

The first two are currently under criminal investigation and cannot provide explanations for the public. Therefore, I sought out the assistant policeman who had been physically attacked himself. Just so happens it was a public figure in Estonia, the young citizen activist Sergei Metlev.

«Our information was that there was a mass fight in Patarei Jail and the security needed help,» said Mr Metlev. «As we arrived at Patarei gates, a security worker led us as close to the scene as possible, but as this was at the very water’s edge at the sea, we had to leave our service car at the concert area, a couple of hundred metres from the conflict scene, and move on by foot.»

As they walked, the security man explained the background. «Some bunch of people had thrown bottles around, on the festival area, made a noise and disturbed the others,» recalls Mr Metlev.

According to him, the security claimed the disturbers paid no heed to their plea to stop what they were doing, rather growing aggressive. As they started to curse, swear and scream, the security asked them to leave the festival grounds altogether. At that, the troublemakers asked who the security thought they were and announced they were staying.

In hindsight, we know the troublemakers were members of Pirados, a movement propagating an anti-authority world view.

«That’s the information we got as we approached. They told us a security worker had been kicked in the body, and into his face with some item. At that, the security had used gas in self defence,» described Mr Metlev.

«I asked who the kickers were. We were told they had fled but might be still around on the festival area. We did also ask if they wanted to file a crime application, but the security company just desired for us to calm the explosive situation,» he added.

Law and order intervenes

According to Mr Metlev, the scene appeared not too dangerous, on the face of it – the man who had gotten gas in his face, from the security, was sitting on the ground, a friend standing at his side. The security claimed the «gassed» one was among the most aggressive.

Here, the Pirados and police versions diverge. The former claim that immediately upon arrival, the policemen attacked the gassed guy. The police claims otherwise.

«As we arrived, the situation rapidly turned hostile towards the police. The friends of the victims were drunk and cursing around, their girlfriends were screaming and trying to pull the policemen by their hands,» recalls Mr Metlev.

«As one of the patrol policemen headed to talk to the gassed one, the person was very resistant. Said he would not talk, he would not pass is personal data etc. I heard it with my own ear.»

According to the assistant policeman, the man appeared obviously intoxicated and his presence was increasingly stirring the conflict.

«As he was so uncooperative towards the police, he was simply told to come along and his identify would be established in the [police] department. As he refused to stand to his feet, a policeman took hold of his coat. At that, the man attempted to push the policeman off, started to waive his hands and scream,» says the assistant policeman.

As described by Mr Metlev, at that instant the man’s friend intervened, starting to push the two policemen. «I realised the next moment he might have hit the policemen, so I pushed him about a metre off from them. I demanded that the man step back. I was not heeded, so I had to push him again. He started screaming and spraying us with the water he held in his hand. I felt he might attack any moment.»

«At that instant, I turned my back towards him for a moment and saw that the gassed man, held by the two policemen, was very strongly resisting. I sensed a very distinct danger towards the patrol unit and decided to press the other man, who continued to revile me, to the ground myself, so as to fix him safely as a potential threat.»

According to the assistant policeman, he managed to get the man unto his knees, but he tried to get back up. «Even though by then three police patrols had arrived, I felt the man might hit me. I grabbed him by the neck to pull him down. As we went down together, two policemen nearby came to my assistance. They said that I should let go, they would handle the man.»

Enter the dog

According to Mr Metlev, he was getting up while between two troublemakers, as one of these kicked him full strength in the leg.

«I felt no pain, as the adrenaline was up. I grabbed the attacker by the leg and a policeman helped me parry his blows. At that moment I saw that the two policemen who helped me out were very vulnerable as only the troublemakers’ friends were around and the policemen had no safe perimeter.»

This was the instance that the police service dog intervened. And here start the videos shaping the public opinion.

«I will not herewith pass judgement on the use of a dog, but the fact is that using a telescope baton will cause a trauma mush more severe – I mean a fractured bone – than a bite by a service dog,» says Mr Metlev. «And it is also a fact that it was only as the dog came into play that the conflict was ended and the man who resisted let himself to be turned belly down, on the ground.»

According to the assistant policeman, the atmosphere was «unwholesome» on the scene, at that moment – the anti-police world view propagating Pirados-people were filming the final phase of the conflict and accusing the police in violence.

«The attitude of the Pirados came as no surprise. What started to bother me was how the public went along with the clearly biased media coverage. This is a quite well planned defamation campaign against the police,» says Mr Metlev. «When I saw the video myself, it felt not pleasant and pretty at all, of course. If it were only possible, I’d solve all situations by convincing, without using force.»

According to him, the gassed guy became no tamer in handcuffs, in the police van. Rather, he continued cursing and kicking the van from the inside. «The vehicle was swaying from his kicking. The people’s attitude towards the police was also seen in our patrol Škoda tyre having air let out.»

Investigators seeking witnesses

Police and Border Guard Board internal audit is investigating the case criminally and hopes to arrive at answers during August.

The investigation covers all aspects of the conflict – the alleged abuse of authority by police, security company behaviour, and resistance to police. This means that explanations must be given by the six policemen involved and those arrested – who are currently going public as victims.

The objectivity of investigation is complicated by over a dozen witnesses linked to Pirados saying the same thing as if according to script. Therefore, the investigators are currently looking for impartial eyewitnesses.

The video recordings, only showing fragments of the incident, are not sufficient to get the whole picture. Therefore, internal audit officials are being busy as bees.

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