Family of man shot to death sues police

Jaanus Käärmann was shot to death by police officers in Tallinn’s Freedom Square the year before last.

PHOTO: Kadri Kuulpak

The family of Jaanus Käärmann, who was shot to death by police officers in Tallinn’s Freedom Square the year before last, has sued the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA). Käärmann’s family had previously attempted to challenge the prosecution’s decision to terminate criminal proceedings in the matter.

Jaanus Käärmann, who rushed toward police officers barefoot, bewildered and wielding two kitchen knives on October 30, 2017, was killed virtually before the entire nation. The tragic incident was filmed from several angles. That is why the shooting prompted emotional debates from day one, raising questions of whether the police did the right thing. It turns out these disputes continue to this day in Tallinn Administrative Court.

“The family of the deceased has filed a complaint against the PPA,” the agency’s press representative Barbara Lichtfeldt said.

Information available to Postimees suggests the court will hear the matter on Thursday. “As things stand, the case will be heard in camera. A decision is expected before summer vacations, presumably in June,” said Anneli Vilu, press representative for administrative courts.

Because the matter is delicate, the police, court and the family have refused to divulge any more information. The Käärmann family – members of which include founder of Transferwise Kristo Käärmann – is being represented by Chairman of the Estonian Bar Association Jaanus Tehver. “I will not comment on this matter, honoring the wishes of my clients,” he said.

The fact the complaint is being heard by the administrative court suggests the object of the challenge is a PPA decision. Postimees’ information suggests members of the Käärmann family are not satisfied with the decision of internal affairs not to punish the officers involved. The family is not seeking damages.

Every such incident sparks a tactical analysis to determine whether use of firearms was justified. The incident from October of 2017 was no exception. Independent experts from the Defense Forces were involved. The expert committee found that opening fire was justified, after which internal affairs concluded no criminal proceedings are necessary to investigate officers’ conduct.

Käärmann’s family did not accept the decision. Theoretically, it would have been possible for the officers to use batons. Secondly, had their equipment included an electroshock weapon, it would have helped spare Käärmann’s life. The police explained that operatives made a decision in a situation where the lives of other people and the officers themselves were in danger.

The North District Prosecutor’s Office has also analyzed officers’ conduct and confirmed the police’s conduct was legitimate. That is why criminal proceedings were terminated last year, while that decision was also challenged in court.

The prosecution sought the opinion of a forensic pathologist-psychiatrist who diagnosed Käärmann with a deepening mental disorder that potentially made him a danger to himself and others. The expert also concluded that the behavior of such a person cannot be affected through external stimuli, including conversation and verbal warnings. The prosecution explained that the situation warranted split-second decision-making and the officers had no other choice.

The decision to terminate proceedings was made in March of last year but was postponed as the family challenged it first in the Office of the Prosecutor General and then in circuit court. The challenges were not satisfied.