Police says arresting officers assaulted foreign victim inside police car

Whistleblower says police colleagues, now on bail, violently hit arrested man with their elbows inside police car

Two of the three police officers charged in connection with a racially-motivated attack on a foreign national had been carrying weapons which were not part of their police-issued equipment, a court has heard.

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 had been stationed at the Ħamrun police station at the time of the offences, 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 is additionally accused of committing an offence which caused grave suffering, on discriminatory grounds, in his capacity as a public officer and abusing his authority as well as further charges, relating to causing, in his capacity as a public officer, a person to fear violence, as well as carrying arms proper and possession of a prohibited weapon.

The Police Quartermaster, Inspector Chantelle Casha, was called to the witness stand this morning. She was shown a number of exhibits, which had been in the possession of some of the defendants at the time of their arrest.

Torch-tasers had been discovered when Mifsud Grech and Brincat had been searched. Inspector Casha confirmed that the type of device in question is not used by the police and so had not been issued to the officers. 

Mifsud Grech had been found to be carrying a can of pepper spray, which the witness declared was also not standard issue and was not the same brand as that used by the police. “The Corp’s pepper sprays are always bought from the mother company,” she added.

Likewise, a pocket knife that had been discovered on Brincat’s person was also not standard police issue, the court was told.

Asked about use of pepper spray, Inspector Casha said that there was an internal police circular issued with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) on the use of pepper spray. Whenever employed, its use had to be immediately recorded on a computerised database and reported to the officer in charge.

A police constable, Lydon Azzopardi, who had already testified during the magisterial inquiry was granted special permission by the court to testify about new information that had emerged since then.

Insp. Omar Zammit asked the constable whether he had anything to add to his previous testimony. 

The constable replied that on 13 September 2022, whilst he had been on night duty, a woman had called for assistance saying that she was being followed by a foreign national. He had gone to investigate together with two other officers, defendants Falzon and Brincat.

The police found the man, but the woman had subsequently refused to file a report. The man was taken to the police station for questioning, he said. While driving back to the station, Falzon, who was driving and Brincat who was in the front passenger seat, had repeatedly hit the man in the head with their elbows.

“As we were on our way to the station, they had wanted to take him to the Qormi place previously mentioned but Luca said it was still daylight and better not to.”

Once at the police station, the man had spoken to a sergeant, whose bodycam was turned on, telling him that Falzon had repeatedly hit him in the head.

Inspector Joseph Mercieca asked the witness whether his bodycam had been on at the time. It hadn’t, the witness replied. “We hadn’t turned it on before the arrest because it was a short drive from the station.” 

Answering a question from lawyer Veronique Dalli, the witness confirmed that Mifsud Grech had not been involved in this later incident.

Lawyer Edmund Cuschieri also pressed the witness for the reasons as to why he hadn’t turned on his bodycam, observing that according to his testimony, the man had only claimed to have been hit by Falzon and did not have any visible injuries. 

Cuschieri pointed out that the witness had said the officers had been around Marsa for around 15 minutes while hitting the victim in the face, and yet he had said the man had no visible injuries. “I did not see any injuries,” repeated the witness.

“So no bodycam, and no visible injuries,” repeated the lawyer. “There were five officers in the car,” said the constable, adding that the sergeant had only turned on his bodycam at the police station.

At the end of today’s sitting the prosecution declared that it had no further witnesses to produce. 

The court then proceeded to grant bail to the accused officers. Each of the defendant’s bail was secured by a €45,000 personal guarantee and a €5000 deposit. 

Magistrate Mifsud ordered the defendants to observe a curfew, sign a bail book every day and not to attempt to communicate with any prosecution witness.

“I am being very strict here. I am creating a balance between your rights and those who reside in this country, be they citizens, immigrants, asylum seekers, third party nationals,” the Magistrate said.

“Whether you are in football or at school… racism is no good anywhere. There should be zero tolerance at all levels…There is a need for cultural learning,” he added.

The court highlighted the fact that it was only granting bail after having heard 20 witnesses testify before it, in addition to those already heard during the magisterial inquiry. Magistrate Mifsud praised inquiring magistrate Elaine Mercieca for completing her inquiry quickly.

Magistrate Mifusd also decreed that there were sufficient reasons to place the accused under indictment, sending the acts of the proceedings to the AG for this purpose.

The case was adjourned to November.

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.