Police brutality case: whistleblower testifies, victim suffered from schizophrenia

The compilation of evidence against Rica Mifsud Grech, 22, from Floriana, and Jurgen Falzon, 24, from Santa Venera, and Luca Brincat, 20, from Qormi, continued before magistrate Joe Mifsud this morning

Suspended police officers Jurgen Falzon, Rica Mifsud Grech and Luca Brincat stand charged with abducting and beating foreigners
Suspended police officers Jurgen Falzon, Rica Mifsud Grech and Luca Brincat stand charged with abducting and beating foreigners

A mental health professional has told a court that the Somali man allegedly abducted and beaten up by police officers in a racially motivated attack last month, had long-stanging psychotic tendencies.

The compilation of evidence against Rica Mifsud Grech, 22, from Floriana, and Jurgen Falzon, 24, from Santa Venera, and Luca Brincat, 20, from Qormi, continued before magistrate Joe Mifsud this morning.

The three officers, all of whom were stationed at the Hamrun police station, are pleading not guilty to charges of kidnapping, abuse of authority, illegal arrest, holding a person against his will, two counts of attempted grievous bodily harm and two counts of causing slight injury, the bodily harm charges being aggravated by racial motives.

Brincat was also accused of abusing his authority, causing a person to fear violence, as well as carrying arms proper and possession of a prohibited weapon.

Testifying, Dr. Claire Axiak from the Floriana Mental Health Clinic said the Somali victim had been treated at Mount Carmel Hospital for a long period of time and was later sent to prison.

“He’s a person with an antisocial personality, whose behaviour can be very challenging and who makes threats. He doesn’t obey the rules and has a tendency to escalate situations, especially after taking alcohol, cocaine and cannabis,” the doctor said.

The victim had last been admitted to Mt Carmel on 15 September. “When the police brought him in, he was wearing a coat in which a bottle of alcohol and a pair of scissors were found… he has a tendency to be psychotic even when not under the influence. I know him from the Forensic Unit.”

She said the victim suffered from schizophrenia, as well as antisocial personality disorder, and indulged in alcohol and substance abuse.

Discharged because there were no grounds for sectioning him at MCH, Axiak said the victim had also threatened hospital staff, once threatening to kill the doctor treating him. “He would sometimes beg for money from the Imam and then use it on drugs... Everyone is afraid of him,” the doctor said.

Reading from records dated September, she noted that the man had told a junior doctor: “You and Dr. Zahra are going to die.”

Axiak confirmed, at defence lawyer Franco Debono’s request, that he was considered “a dangerous person”.

Magistrate Joseph Mifsud interrupted questioning, pointing out that the charges dealt with matters unconnected to the victim’s mental health.

Answering to lawyer Veronique Dalli, the doctor said the victim was a long-time cocaine user, whose aggression – a personality disorder – was aggravated by substance abuse. “He has an underlying schizoaffective disorder, which meant that even if not under the influence, he would have incidents of aggression.”

Living rough, the victim had been expelled from the Marsa open centre after resident families expressed fears about his behaviour.

The witness said the victim’s aggression would escalate when confronted by authority.

The court upheld a request by the Attorney General’s office to appoint a medical expert to ascertain whether the man was fit to testify.

Magistrate Mifsud highlighted the fact that the most important issue was not the man’s medical history – although that may be a defence in future – but the evidence needed now to decide whether the charges against him are prima facie justified. “Even if a person has certain medical conditions in our society, he enjoys certain protection.

 “My policy is that you shouldn’t beat people up and neither should you suffer beatings... We are trying to see whether there were grounds for arrest. Then you take the person where he needs to be taken,” Magistrate Mifsud said.


Sergeant who reported abuse

Another witness, PS Alexander Gauci, stationed at Hamrun Police station took the stand. “On 3 October I received a call at around 11pm from a colleague… he said that yesterday he had been on duty at the Victor Tedesco stadium, when [several police officers] had opened up to him about things going on behind his back in the shift, but didn’t elaborate.”

Later, during a night watch, Gauci was told that a female police constable had been on duty with Brincat and Mifsud Grech. They had told her to go on patrol with her that night and had gone to Triq is-Serkin in Marsa. 

“When they arrived there, there were some civilians waiting for them, who pointed out a dark-skinned man for collection. He was duly taken into the police car. They went to Qormi Valley near Gaffarena’s petrol station. I asked her to take me there, as I didn’t even know where this valley was.

“She explained to me that this person had been beaten up, knocked unconscious and had been repeatedly kicked in the head and ribs, before being left at the scene and abandoned there... While we were discussing this, another officer piped up and said that there were times when they would go to Marsa and see a black man sleeping rough and would wake him up and slap him. Occasionally a taser would be used too.”

“I spoke to [another officer], who told me about another incident… he had been driving in a 

police car making contact via radio with PC437, who had told him to go near a gate in Marsa. There they indicated a dark skinned person. Then the same thing happened, they picked him up in the police car and took him to the same valley. There they beat the man up. He was punched in the face. When he fell to the floor and tried to stop PC437, the officer picked up a rock from the ground and threw it at this person’s head, and then they left the scene.”

The person who informed him had been so concerned that he had gone back to the scene to try and find this man and treat him, said the witness.

Later, the witness had approached his superiors and explained what happened. This got the ball rolling for an internal investigation. The witness was ordered to report the next day at the office of professional standards at police HQ, he said.

The magistrate noted with satisfaction that 13 witnesses had testified so far in this compilation of evidence. Before adjourning the case to Thursday, magistrate MIfsud informed the parties that he “already had an idea on what to do with regards to bail,” urging the lawyers not to make lengthy submissions on this issue.

Inspectors Joseph Mercieca and Omar Zammit are prosecuting, together with AG lawyers Anthony Vella and Kaylie Bonnett.

Lawyers Veronique Dalli and Dean Hili are assisting Mifsud Grech.

Lawyer Edmond Cuschieri is counsel to Falzon.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Francesca Zarb are Brincat's defence counsel.