Highly Irregular Greek Police Investigation into the Ill-Treatment of Romani Men by Police Officers

07 February 2004

Panayote Dimitras1

In November 17, 2003, the Cephallonia Prosecutor submitted a motion to the Misdemeanours Judicial Council, recommending that Officer Nikos Kanellopoulos, accused of mistreating two Romani youths, be referred to trial. On September 13, 2003, the Argostoli First Instance Court informed the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), in partnership with the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), that, following a judicial ordinary investigation into the allegations of ill-treatment of two Romani youths, Mr Theodore Stephanou and Mr Nikos Theodoropoulos, three officers of the Greek police, the Argostoli Police Security Department Commander, Lieutenant Second Class George Choraitis, and Officers Politimos Yachalis and Nikos Kanellopoulos, were charged in accordance with Article 137A(3) of the Greek Criminal Code with inflicting bodily harm. On October 8, 2001, Mr Stephanou, a minor at the time of the incident, with assistance from the ERRC/GHM, filed a criminal complaint against police officers of the Argostoli Police Station following his ill treatment by officers on August 5, 2001.

Background to the Case of Ill-Treatment of Theodore Stephanou and Mr Nikos Theodoropoulos

On the night of August 4, 2001, Mr Nikos Theodoropoulos and three other Romani youth were taken into custody and then arrested after being accused of the theft of a large sum of money from a kiosk, a sum that was never found. In the early hours of August 5, 2001, Mr Stephanou, whose family vehicle had been searched while he was away from it, went to the police station when told that officers had been looking for him. Mr Stephanou and Mr Theodoropoulos, as well as two other Roma arrested, subsequently claimed they were subjected to serious physical abuse in the Argostoli Police Station on the island of Cephallonia. Upon arrival at the police station at around 1:00 AM on August 5, 2001, two officers reportedly placed the young Roma in separate rooms to interrogate them about the theft. According to his testimony to the ERRC/GHM, when Mr Theodoropoulos refused to confess to the theft, both officers began punching and slapping him in the face and stepping on his feet with their boots for approximately 20 minutes. He was then placed in a detention cell. After being allowed to sleep for a few hours, officers again reportedly beat Mr Theodoropoulos until he signed a deposition, the content of which was not read to him. Police had previously denied him the right to call an attorney, but put in his statement that he had waived that right. According to Mr Stephanou, upon his arrival at the police station, he was placed in a room and an officer repeatedly punched and slapped him hard in the face in the presence of the police commander and another officer for around 15 minutes, while the police Commander questioned him. Mr Stefanou was then handcuffed and taken to his truck, where he presented his cellular phone to the police officers who impounded it; he was then brought back to the police station and beaten for another 15 minutes by the first officer, who repeatedly asked him "where the money was."2

Dubious Investigation

According to the testimony of Mr Stephanou to the ERRC/GHM on October 8, 2001, after the first arrest on August 5, 2001, he was arrested again in September 2001 by Officer Kanellopoulos - the same one who ill-treated him on August 5 - on a date he was not able to specify, in his hometown of Patras, to which Officer Kanellopoulos had been transferred. A hearing before the One Member Juvenile Court of Patras is set for February 3, 2004. According to the penal file on the arrest prepared by the police, Mr Stephanou was arrested because "he could not prove lawful possession of a cellular phone" and charged in accordance with Article 394(1) (possession of stolen goods). Thus formulated, the reason for the arrest constitutes an inadmissible reversal of the burden of proof, insofar as it requires the accused to prove how he legitimately came into possession of the object, rather than prosecuting authorities to prove that he acquired the object in an illegal manner. Nowhere in the penal file is there any report of a stolen cellular phone. This constitutes a clear example of racial profiling, as the officers assumed that a Romani person could not lawfully own a cellular phone.

In his April 30, 2002 testimony, submitted within the framework of the Sword Administrative Investigation (SAI), launched on November 21, 2001, after the first allegations were made concerning the alleged August 4, ill-treatment, Officer Kanellopoulos asserted that he arrested Mr Stephanou on September 3, 2001. The Deputy Director of the Cephallonia Police Directorate, Mr Evangeloelias Moschonas, who conducted the SAI, however, concluded, at page 9 of the SAI, that "[...] Mr. Stephanou was arrested in Patras on September 5, 2001." This discrepancy in the dates is important, as Officer Kanellopoulos was not on duty on September 3, 2001, as proven by the fact that the Cephallonia Police Directorate, with its reference document 233428/6/4-kq, dated April 24, 2002, requested that the Achaia Police Directorate supply the September 3 duty roster. Noting, however, that Office Kanellopoulos was not on duty on that day, on May 13, 2002, the Cephallonia Police Directorate requested that the Achaia Police Directorate dispatch "[...] the duty roster for September 5, 2001, and not that of September 3, 2001, as [our service] requested by mistake on April 24, 2002 [...]."

Mr Stephanou further stated to ERRC/GHM, in late October 2001, that his arrest did not take place on either September 3 or 5, 2001, but many days later. This claim is strengthened by the fact that the police penal file on the arrest - supposedly completed on September 5, 2001 - was submitted to the Prosecutor on October 27, 2001, more than 50 days following the alleged date of Mr Stephanou's arrest. (Under Article 37(1) of the Greek Criminal Procedure Code, investigating officials should "without delay" inform the competent prosecutor of all criminally sanctionable acts.) Moreover, the Cephallonia Police Directorate's Register of Occurring Crimes makes no reference to an arrest on September 5, but refers to the dispatch of the file to the prosecutor on October 27, 2001.

In addition to the discrepancy concerning the date and circumstances of the arrest, there is a discrepancy in Officer Kanellopoulos' testimonies in the penal file and during the SAI. In his deposition for the SAI, Officer Kanellopoulos claimed that on the day of the arrest, which he stated to be September 3, 2001, he and a colleague, whose name he could not recall, received orders to proceed to the scene of a reported cellular phone theft. There, the theft victim informed police officers that she had seen two "Athinganoi" close to her house when the theft took place. "Athinganoi" is a term used to refer to Roma in Greece. According to Officer Kanellopoulos' testimony, the officers searched the area and found Mr Stephanou, whom they arrested, while another Romani youth evaded arrest. The woman did not identify Mr Stephanou as the perpetrator of the theft but, according to Officer Kanellopoulos, "[...] as was the case in Cephallonia, he could not prove lawful ownership of the cellular phone and was consequently arrested".

A different version of the events appears in Officer Kanellopoulos's deposition in the penal file concerning Mr Stephanou's second arrest. In his September 5, 2001 deposition, Officer Kanellopoulos does not mention receiving any orders to proceed to the area where Mr Stephanou was arrested, or the fact that another Romani youth avoided arrest. The file does not contain a deposition by the officer who allegedly accompanied Officer Kanellopoulos. The case file also contains Mr Stephanou's signature on one of the documents. There are strong reasons to believe this to be a forgery as Mr Stephanou stated unequivocally that he never signed the document, and the signature does not bear any resemblance to that of Mr Stephanou.

The above discrepancies point to the fact that members of the Greek Police have attempted to discredit Mr Stephanou's legal action regarding his alleged ill-treatment by police officers. Indeed, in his deposition before the investigating judge dated September 10, 2003, Officer Kanellopoulos contended that Mr Stephanou had submitted the criminal complaint in retribution for his arrest and subsequent indictment. There is strong reason to believe that Mr Stephanou's arrest took place sometime after September 17, 2001, when the alleged ill-treatment incident became widely known. Should Greek Police admit that the arrest took place after the alleged ill-treatment gained publicity, it would invite strong criticism that authorities sought to arrest Mr Stephanou in order to use his arrest as a bargaining chip to force him to retract his criminal complaint.

Pressure to Retract Legal Action

A highly insidious aspect of this case relates to the information received by the ERRC/GHM, between November 2001 and September 2003, that officers have attempted to "persuade" the Roma involved to retract their allegations. Most importantly, in his May 5, 2003 sworn testimony, Mr Theodoropoulos, the second Romani youth allegedly ill-treated on August 5, 2001, testified to the investigating judge, "We were called by the Director, Moschonas, who instructed us to say that no police officer ill-treated us and that we were only slapped a couple of times, as usual. I had to withdraw the allegation because I am a permanent resident here and I am afraid." Mr Moschonas held the rank of the Deputy Police Director and served as Deputy Director of the Cephallonia Police Directorate. In this capacity he conducted the SAI into the allegations of ill-treatment by Mr Stephanou and Mr Nikos Theodoropoulos. The SAI concluded, on May 15, 2002, that these allegations were "manifestly unfounded" and recommended no disciplinary action be taken. In the course of the SAI, Mr Moschonas was promoted to Director of the Cephallonia Police Directorate.

The ERRC/GHM drafted a memorandum outlining the many contradictions in the files of the SAI, the penal file concerning the alleged theft of the cellular phone by Mr Stephanou in Patras and of the penal file concerning the ill treatment of the two youths. This memorandum formed the basis of the criminal complaint submitted by ERRC/GHM on September 4, 2003, to the Misdemeanours Prosecutor of Cephallonia. The criminal complaint was filed against 11 officers serving in Patras and Cephallonia, including the director of the Cephallonia Police Directorate, Mr Moschonas, and concerns a wide range of alleged offences, from perjury and breach of duty to forgery. A related preliminary inquiry was immediately launched by the Misdemeanours Prosecutor.

Racial Profiling

The ERRC/GHM also found racial profiling present in the defence memorandum attached to Lieutenant Choraitis's September 10, 2003 deposition testimony. According to Lieutenant Choraitis, "my unremitting professional activities have had as a result the containment of the aforementioned criminal behaviour of those [two Romani women including Ms Maria Stephanou, Theodore Stephanou's sister and wife of Mr Theodoropoulos] as well as others of their race and their relatives". Lieutenant Choraitis further testified that the mentioned Roma "repeatedly and as a profession engage in theft", and exhibit "anti-social behaviour, considering that all the aforementioned Athinganoi, together with their relatives, have been conclusively proven to be the perpetrators of more than twenty (20) thefts".

Lieutenant Choraitis also submitted 12 standardised police documents to the investigating judge entitled either "To the Prosecutor's Attention" or "Submission of a Penal Case Brief", which concern Argostoli Roma, some of which are relatives of Mr Stephanou and Mr Theodoropoulos. Six of these documents concern cases that took place between 1994 and the time the criminal complaint was filed, while the other six documents concern cases that took place after the criminal complaint was filed. In fact, one of the latter six documents did not originate from Lieutenant Choraitis's department but rather from the North-Eastern Attica Police Directorate. None of the submitted documents pertain to Mr Stephanou and only two pertain to Mr Theodoropoulos. All of the documents fail to list ensuing court decisions and therefore it is not known how many of these cases led to convictions. It is believed that these documents were submitted merely to support Lieutenant Choraitis' claims that Mr Stephanou and Mr Theodoropoulos are habitual delinquents and to cast them in an unfavourable light. Police officers, by virtue of their profession, have easy access to civilians' criminal records and files, whereas a civilian cannot easily access police officers' disciplinary files. In fact, this practise may constitute a violation of Article 2(b) of Law 2472/97 on the Protection of Sensitive Private Data, under which data concerning criminal convictions or criminal proceedings launched against a person are considered "sensitive data" and are therefore protected from unwarranted disclosure. For these reasons, the ERRC/GHM submitted a complaint to the Greek Data Protection Authority (DPA) on November 10, 2003, alleging that the aforementioned practice amounts to a grave violation of protection of sensitive personal data. The DPA had not answered ERRC/GHM as of December 15, 2003.

On November 10, 2003, the ERRC/GHM addressed a letter to Greek Minister of Public Order Mr George Florides, to which the memorandum outlining the contradictions in the case files was attached, requesting that the officers referred to in the memorandum, and still stationed in Argostoli, be either suspended from duty or transferred from Cephallonia, as they had attempted to coerce the Roma concerned into retracting their statements. In addition, the ERRC/GHM called on Mr Florides to launch an investigation into the allegations, to be conducted by the Internal Affairs Bureau of the Greek Police. The Internal Affairs Bureau has been exceptionally effective in bringing to light cases of corruption within the police force and has recently been assigned the task of investigating all corruption allegations within the entire Greek Civil Service. Cases of death, injuries or ill-treatment at the hands of Greek Police do not currently fall within its mandate, though it appears that it was initially meant to deal with such cases. The Minister had not answered ERRC/GHM as of December 15, 2003.

Difficulty Commissioning Adequate Legal Representation

A collateral issue that has arisen within the framework of Mr Stephanou's case is the reluctance of lawyers to handle cases concerning allegations of ill-treatment at the hands of police officers. Under Greek law, plaintiffs are entitled to be represented by both legal council and proxy council if the former is not based in the area in which the alleged crime was committed. The proxy should familiarise herself with all relevant case documents and transmit them to the plaintiff or legal council. This is usually a simple procedure, but in cases in which police officers are accused of crimes, the procedure is beset with problems, as exemplified by Mr Stephanou's case. On the very day Mr Stephanou's criminal complaint was lodged (October 8, 2001), Mr Stephanou's ERRC/GHM supported legal counsel was unable to find a Cephallonia-based lawyer to act as proxy. All four lawyers contacted, including the then-Chairman of the Cephallonia Bar Association, declined to act as such after being informed of the content of the criminal complaint. Only after a few months did the ERRC/GHM find a lawyer, Mr Antonios Drakontaeidis, who orally agreed to serve as the proxy lawyer. After some time, it came to the attention of the ERRC/GHM that Mr Drakontaeidis had not informed the court of his appointment and the ERRC/GHM were unable to contact him. The ERRC/GHM found another lawyer, Ms Eftichia Anastasiadou, to serve as proxy in the case, but on October 13, 2003, the Argostoli Prosecutor informed the ERRC/GHM that Ms Anastasiadou had orally stated she did not want to be involved in the case and declined to sign the notification of the completion of the judicial investigation. Ms Anastasiadou had not informed the ERRC/GHM of this. Thus, on October 23, 2003, the ERRC/GHM sent a letter to the Cephallonia Chairman of the First Instance Judges, copied to the Greek Minister of Justice, the Prosecutor of the Supreme Court, the President of the Plenary of Greece's Bar Associations and the Ombudsman, wherein they informed the Chief Cephallonia Judge of the above and requested the appointment of a proxy lawyer. The ERRC/GHM also listed five other cases involving Roma and a Ukrainian trafficking victim in which local lawyers refused to act as proxies or had failed to inform the plaintiffs and their lawyers of crucial developments, hence damaging the cases. The ERRC/GHM also recalled the frequent allegations of lawyers discouraging the filing of complaints by ill-treatment victims mentioned in the 2001 report of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture on Greece (paragraph 18). The letter was apparently transmitted to the Cephallonia Bar Association which, in a letter to the ERRC/GHM dated October 29, 2003, refuted their claim that lawyers from Cephallonia had refused to act as proxy lawyers. On November 11, 2002, the ERRC/GHM responded, noting that the claims can be substantiated and called for the Chairman of the Bar Association to give an opinion concerning the manner in which Ms Anastasiadou withdrew from the case. As of December 15, 2003, the ERRC/GHM had not received a response from the Cephallonia Bar Association, but were informed that disciplinary proceedings had been launched against Ms Anastasiadou. Additionally, on November 13, 2003, the First Instance Court of Cephallonia informed ERRC/GHM that it had appointed a lawyer to act as the proxy lawyer for Mr Stephanou.

ERRC/GHM Follow-up to the Prosecutor's Motion

In its November 17, 2003 motion in which it recommended that only Officer Kanellopoulos be referred to trial, the Prosecutor laid heavy emphasis on the SAI into the October 8, 2001 incident, which concluded that no ill-treatment had taken place. On December 1, 2003, Mr Stephanou's ERRC/GHM supported attorney, Mr Orestis Georgiadis, submitted a legal brief, commenting on the prosecutor's motion, in which he welcomed the referral of Officer Kanellopoulos and highlighted the fact that the findings of the SAI contained a number of inconsistencies and therefore should not form the basis of the decision not to refer Lieutenant Choraitis to trial. In an attached memorandum, Mr Georgiadis outlined the inconsistencies found between the SAI findings and the case file and drew attention to the statements made by Lieutenant Choraitis during his deposition and the attached September 10, 2003 defence memorandum, which constitute racial profiling and incitement to racial hatred. Mr Georgiadis argued that the statements made by Lieutenant Choraitis indicate his strong anti-Romani attitude and support the contention that he did, indeed, condone the actions of Officer Kanellopoulos or even encourage him to physically abuse Mr Stephanou. Mr Georgiadis asked that Lieutenant Choraitis be charged in accordance with Article 137(A) (inflicting bodily harm) and 137(B2) (instigating the crime) of the Greek Criminal Code. If found guilty of the latter, Lieutenant Choraitis, in his capacity as commanding officer, would be guilty of a felony, punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.

Conclusion

This case is important because it underlines a number of problems Roma and their advocates face in accessing effective redress for ill-treatment, injury or death at the hands of law enforcement officers in Greece. Since the very beginning of the case, the ERRC/GHM has repeatedly informed the Greek Ombudsman of irregularities in the case. The Ombudsman has assisted the ERRC/GHM access parts of the SAI file, but despite multiple requests has to this day refrained from investigating the multiple alleged irregular or illegal police activities, or at least pressuring police to carry out an impartial investigation.

Endnotes:

  1. Panayote Dimitras is the Spokesperson of the Athens-based non-governmental organisation Greek Helsinki Monitor. Mr Dimitras is also a Recurrent Visiting Professor at the Nationalism Studies Programme of the Central European University and a member of the Assembly of Delegates of the World Organisation Against Torture. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Economy and Government from Harvard University.
  2. Further information on the case is available at: http://errc.org and Greek Helsinki Committee: Theodoros Stephanou and from http://www.greekhelsinki.gr.

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