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Udpated | Bail for AFM soldiers accused of Malian migrant’s murder
Court grants bail to AFM soldiers charged with Malian migrant’s murder after court hears 13 witnesses.
10 July 2012, 12:00am
The two soldiers, from the AFM's First Regiment who were stationed at the Safi Detention Centre are pleading not guilty to the involuntary homicide of 32-year-old Mamadou Kamara from Mali, causing him serious injury and committing a crime they were duty-bound to prevent.
Family and friends present throughout the proceedings were in tears as the court upheld the accused request for bail after spending more than a week under preventative arrest at Corradino Prisons.
Both Dimech and Cuschieri were ordered to sign daily at a police station at 8am and 8pm, but no curfew was imposed.
Lawyers Franco Debono and Rachel Tua are appearing for Cuschieri, while lawyer Joe Giglio is defending Dimech.
After over five hours of hearing witnesses summoned by the prosecution, delayed by an hour and a half caused by a bomb scare, the court heard how Dimech was revered to by his colleagues, described as a "hero".
In the compilation of evidence, several detention services officers (DSO) taking the witness stand said that Dimech had in the past "acted bravely when he ran into a burning room to save a migrant, risking his own life".
Lieutenant Nicholas Camilleri, in charge of the Safi detention centre, not only spoke highly of Dimech but also told the court that he would have acted in the same way as Dimech did in trying to hold down a "violent migrant".
Inspector Arnaud was weary of why two officers had been placed with Kamara at the back of the van, known as the "cage", when he escaped.
But Camilleri argued that he would have done the same.
Dimech and Cuschieri stand accused of the involuntary homicide of Kamara, who died after suffering blows to his genitals and to his back and sides.
Inspector Arnaud said that he had arrested Dimech and Cushcieri together with three others on suspicion of foul play.
During the interrogation, it turned out that Dimech, Cuschieri and Lance Corporal Gordon Pickard - accused of obstructing justice - agreed to say that Kamara had been aggressive all along, including while he was on his way to the Paola health centre where he was certified dead.
Later on during the interrogation it transpired that when Kamara escaped for the second time at around 11:30pm on Friday night, he was apprehended by Dimech and Cuschieri in Triq il-Qlajja, Safi.
It also transpired that this was the first time that Kamara had acted violently, while before he "didn't act normal but was never violent".
Kamara was pinned to the floor by Dimech, who was trying to hold his hands as the two AFM officers weren't carrying any handcuffs. However, Kamara reportedly resisted the arrest, and at one point almost managed to get up with Dimech still holding on to him.
During the scuffle, Kamara bit and hit Dimech as Cuschieri started kicking him, reportedly "not more than five times". Arnaud said that even though Dimech claimed that he didn't hold Kamara down so that Cuschieri could hit him, he admitted to not giving any orders to stop the beatings.
According to Arnaud, Cuschieri had aimed for the thigh but he missed as Kamara continued to resist.
During that moment, Pickard arrived with his private car and ordered Cuschieri to go and park his [Pickard's] car and to bring the detention services van near them.
With Cuschieri in the driving seat and Pickard and Dimech sitting in the back with Kamara, the van made its way to the detention centre to collect the handcuffs before proceeding to the Floriana health centre.
At the detention centre, DSOs Frans Scerri and Mark Cuschieri testified that they had given their handcuffs to Pickard and Dimech to cuff Kamara.
Both said that Kamara was lying down on his right side, with his head towards the door of the van while Pickard sat next to his head and Dimech sat next to his feet.
Scerri said that Pickard turned Kamara on his back to handcuff him and bind his feet.
Both Scerri and Frans Cuschieri said Kamara didn't offer any resistance. However, Pickard, who was in charge of the DSOs that night, ordered the two men to sit in the back with Kamara.
The two DSOs said they followed his orders, no questions asked.
But as they were about to leave the centre, both Scerri and Frans Cuschieri testified that Dimech, Clive Cuschieri and Pickard stopped by their office, got out of the van and spent three minutes talking in the office.
Back in the van, the group proceeded to the health care centre, with Dimech saying they should go to Paola being the nearest.
Scerri said that one point he checked Kamara's pulse, but when he felt nothing he thought he had checked in the wrong place. All the way, Kamara didn't move and the DSOs said nothing to the army officers sitting in front.
When they arrived at Paola, Dimech and Cuschieri went immediately to see a doctor because of their injuries while Pickard went in to bring a wheelchair for Kamara. It was then when Scerri told Pickard that Kamara wasn't moving. Before the doctor came down, Pickard told Scerri and Frans Cuschieri that they were to say that Kamara had been struggling in the van and had been aggressive.
The two DSOs once again agreed to obey Pickard's orders.
While interrogating him on true version of events, Inspector Arnaud said Dimech told him he didn't know that Kamara had died until the doctor said so. Arnaud also said that at one point, the sergeant started crying, insisting that he "didn't want to betray anyone".
The prosecution summoned 13 witnesses to basically ask them what was "the normal procedure" to be used when a "violent migrant becomes an escapee".
But one by one, Gunners and DSOs testifying in court said that usually migrants are placed in the "cage", while a driver and an escorting officer sit in front.
In particular, Gunner Paul Mario Muscat said that in the case of a migrant who would be "really violent", he would be handcuffed but no officer would be placed with him in the cage "for the safety of both".
From various witnesses, it turned out that Kamara's strange behavior at the clinic and at the detention centre never was aggressive but that he would sing, dance, take other people's clothes, complain of headaches and insist that he had stomach pain, all the time mentioning the word "baby".
At one point at the Floriana health centre, he reportedly boasted with the officers how he had managed to escape in 2009. To the officers, this seemed strange as no one usually reveals how they escaped.
It then turned out that Kamara was in fact the father of a 7-month old but whom he had never seen. The mother of the child, Mary Seguna, had last seen Kamara when she was one month pregnant and their baby was not registered under his name.
The court also was told that Cuschieri and Dimech had been on a 24-hour shift, while only six DSOs were placed with the 195 migrants at B Block. After complaining about Kamara, the migrants threatened they would either "beat him up" or "start a riot".
Dimech said he decided to transfer Kamara to Hal Far, before he managed to escape bolting through the gate and jumping off the fence.
At one point, Dominic Seguna, a DSO stationed at Hal Safi, said that Kamara had been "a pain in the arse all along" and that "one had to spend time with them [migrants] to know what they are".
Seguna also said that if Kamara - who he referred to as "Bob Marley" at one point - had been kept with the other migrants, they would have turned him "into a black omelette by morning".
He also said that at one point there were "20 migrants hanging onto the fence like monkeys ready for him".
Franco Debono points out defects in migration policy
Meanwhile, backbencher Franco Debono took the opportunity to criticise former minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici for the state of the detention centres and the migration policy.
The court was hearing how Dimech, as the detention service duty officer (DSDO), was responsible of both the Hal Far and Hal Safi centre, amounting to over 1,000 migrants.
"[Dimech and Cuschieri] are victims of someone - and we all know who - who failed to address the policy and the system. How can they do their job adequately and protect themselves if they have no taser guns and no pepper spray?" Debono said.
"And then I find myself representing someone who had nothing to defend himself with, accused of involuntary homicide."
Debono said that it was unacceptable the two accused had been working 24-hour shifts and that the migrant to officer ratios was vastly disproportionate. He added that the case had nothing to do with racism.
"The officials in charge of detention centres have to shoulder the blame for the shortcomings of the state."
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