Police ill-treatment of 15-year-old Romani boy in Poland
07 November 1997
A 15-year-old Rom named Robert Pawlowski from the southern Polish town of Żywiec was allegedly severely ill-treated by a police officer on November 26, 1996 in Wodzisław Śłąski, also in southern Poland. Robert was visiting his aunt in Wodzisław Śłąski, and was returning late in the evening from a friend's house in the company of B.B., a 26-year-old non Romani woman. Allegedly, Robert was kicking a trash-can when they were approached by a police car with three policemen inside. Scared by the sight of the police, Robert started to run away. He was followed by Officer B.S., one of the policemen, while the other two police officers drove after them in the car. The police officers allegedly pulled B.B. into the car and she remained with them during the rest of the incident. Robert ran straight to his aunt's house, where Officer B.S. caught up with him and prevented him from getting inside the apartment. According to Robert's aunt Danuta Bałasz and eye witness of what followed:
"I was already in bed when I suddenly heard something that sounded like a shot outside. Then, I heard banging on the door started and I hurried to open it. Outside the door in the staircase was Robert who was trying to get in and a man in black who kept him back. I tried to help Robert inside and so for a while, we were both putting him: one of us to get him in and the other to keep him out. The man was of course stronger than me so I had to let Robert go.
I didn't realise that the man was a police officer until he turned around and I saw the big white letters on his back which said, "Police". I asked him what he wanted from Robert. I told him that I was his aunt and that I wanted to know what he had done, but he wouldn't pay any attention to me.
Mrs Bałasz told the ERRC that Officer B.S. pushed Robert down the stairs and started beating him. She reported having heard two shots during the incident, one outside the house before Robert arrived at her door and a second during the beating on the stair case. When Mrs Bałasz Tan downstairs, she found Robert lying on the ground by the building entranceway, bleeding heavily from his head:
"When I saw my Robert lying on the ground with all that blood around him, I started screaming at the policeman, 'What have you done to him? You killed the boy!' The policeman looked at me and said, 'You Gypsies should alt be taken to the forest and be shot.'
Robert lay on the ground for half an hour before the ambulance came. When they finally got there, I tried to tell them what had happened, and explain to them that Robert had been shot by the police, but they didn't want to listen to me. I wanted to go with them to the hospital but they wouldn't let me. They told me I could only come the next morning. Then they left and the police left with them."
Robert was first taken to the hospital in Wodzisław Śłąski from where he was immediately transferred to a better equipped hospital in neighbouring Jastrzębie Zdroj. He was operated on the same night. He remained in hospital for a month and will never fully recover from the head injuries he sustained, which include a broken skull and brain damage.
Following an official complaint filed against the police by Mrs Bałasz, an investigation into the incident was launched by the Jastrzębie Zdroj Prosecutor's Office in December 1996. According to information made available to the ERRC, the case file No. 2Ds 1602/96 states that the police deny having used any violence against Robert. Reportedly, Officer B.S.'s version of the incident is that Robert, a suspect who had fled the scene of a crime, was caught in a block-house where he fell down during the action and hit his head on a sharp object next to the door out side. The police allegedly acknowledged that they had fired one shot during the action, but they claimed the shot had been a blank shell, aimed into the air.
In February 1997, the prosecutor in charge at the Jastrzębie Prosecutor's Office, Krystian Nogły, decided not to bring charges and dropped the case. Following a complaint lodged by Leszek Piotrowski, the lawyer hired by Robert's family, the case was reopened on the order of the Katowice County Prosecutor's Office in March 1997. The case is since under investigation by Mr. Nogły, the same prosecutor who dropped it in February.
Attorney Piotrowski believes that the prosecution is not pursuing the case properly and fears that the investigation will at best remain stalled. According to him, although police brutality is a problem in Poland, such incidents rarely reach the courts. The ERRC sent a letter to the General Prosecutor of Poland on August 25, 1997, expressing concern over the alleged police ill-treatment and urging him to see to that a thorough and impartial investigation of the incident be carried out. The human rights situation of Roma in Poland is the subject of a forth coming report by the ERRC.