Marsa police beating: Victim insists four officers were involved

One of the Marsa beating victims says he was beat up in handcuffs and tasered in separate incidents

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 man allegedly abducted and beaten up by police officers in September has told a court that four officers had participated in the attack.

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

The three police officers are currently suspended from duty, and 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 also stands accused of abusing his authority, causing a person to fear violence, carrying arms proper and with being in possession of a prohibited weapon.

Psychiatrist takes the stand

Today’s first witness was psychiatrist Joe Cassar, who gave evidence via video link. Cassar had been appointed by the court to examine the mental state of the alleged victim, Aldu Wili Ahmed Ali, from Somalia.

Cassar confirmed his report on oath, explaining that when Ali drinks alcohol he tends to become psychotic and violent. “When he does not take drugs or alcohol he is fine, but he is not keeping his appointments at the mental health clinic.”

Ali had not been able to recall the exact date of the incident, but he had recounted what happened to him in detail, said the medical expert.

Cross-examined by Franco Debono, the doctor confirmed that when under the effect of alcohol or drugs, the man was dangerous.

Another witness, Superintendent Priscilla Caruana Lee, who is  stationed at Hamrun, exhibited the station’s detainee book for the period in question. It showed that nobody had been registered as being detained during that period.

Inspector Mercieca explained that her testimony was needed to prove that no records had been kept of the man’s detention. It was evidence of a negative, confirmed the prosecution.

Cross-examined by Franco Debono, who asked whether his client had been given the right to speak to a lawyer, the witness said that he had not given it to Brincat, but he could not speak for the other officers there.

Witness insists a fourth officer was involved in assault.

‘If we see you, we’ll beat you’

One Somali man allegedly assaulted by the officers, Marsa resident Aldu Wili Ahmed Ali, took the witness stand, testifying in English. “That night I went to a shop in Marsa and asked for some coins. I was drunk,” he said. He broke one of the shop’s windows by mistake and the owner said he would call the police.

Police officers arrived and he was taken to the police station, where he was given papers to sign, before being told he would receive a notification of his court sitting date and sent him on his way

“The officers outside told me ‘if we see you in Marsa, we will beat you’,” he said. “I finished my drink and went to the Marsa park and ride to sleep there.” Thirty or forty minutes later, a black man had been involved in a savage assault on a woman in the area, he said. “The same police officers arrived,” he said, indicating the accused.

‘They beat me up in handcuffs’

“They recognised me, and said ‘it’s him it’s him’ and beat me up in handcuffs.”

Ali said the officers then took him to a garden somewhere in the middle of Marsa and beat him up again, while he was still handcuffed.

“They beat me as much as they want. No problem,” said the witness, matter-of-factly.

The man could not say exactly where the assault happened, but described the place as not being far outside Qormi and not near any houses. “They stopped the car, they took me out and they started to beat me. There was another one, there were four police officers in all.”

All four officers carried out the beating, he said. “A mystery person,” remarked the court.

Two police officers had been sitting in the front of the car and another two in the back, he said. “I remember 100%”

“One of them said ‘everyone close the cameras and put them in the car’ and then they beat me.  I was bleeding.”

He said he could see the lights of what he described as the Marsa highway in the distance from the place where the beating took place.

Police said victim was ‘crazy’

After his assailants left, while Ali was walking away, he encountered another police car. The officers inside it were wearing black T-shirts, he said, indicating that they were RIU personnel. He was eventually taken to Mater Dei hospital, he said, where a female officer had described him as “crazy.” “I told the doctor ‘look, I am not crazy.”

Although the officers had kicked him in the head, he said, he hadn’t gone to file a police report about the incident. “I forget it, myself.” “Then one day they come from Marsa, CID police come and start asking me what happened. I started to explain to them what happened.”

Prosecutor Anthony Vella asked the witness about the fourth officer. “It was a man. I know all of the police officers stationed at Hamrun.”

“The people who beat me were inside the Marsa station but the police said ‘you are a crazy man, you have a treatment order, how can we believe you?’, so I say thank you and go wash off the blood.”

“I cannot make any police report in Malta because they will say ‘you have a treatment order.’”

Going back to the events that night, Vella asked the witness what happened when he was taken out of the police car. The officers hadn’t taken him to the police station but to a dark place, in the area outside Marsa that he had previously mentioned. “The man who is not here now said [to the others] we don’t go to the police station …close your cameras’ and then they started to beat me.”

The beating consisted entirely of being kicked in the face, he said. “When they got tired…I tell them why do you treat me like an animal?” The officers all took off their body cams during the assault, he repeated.

The fourth officer was friendly with them. “One of them was an inspector. He said ‘do it, do it, do it!’ All of them beat me…”

Victim was pepper sprayed, tasered in separate incident

Pointing to Luca Brincat, one of the accused, the man said that before the assault, he had a previous incident with the officer. Ali had been asleep in front of a BOV branch, he said, when a car driven by Brincat pulled up and the officer got out, sprayed him with pepper spray and tasered him before asking “why are you sleeping here?” The victim said he had been sleeping in front of the bank so that any such attack would be captured on CCTV.

The officers had shone a torch in his eyes while he was on the floor so he could not see their faces, he added.

“When I see them they stopped the car quickly and said ‘what are you doing here?’” The man explained that he had been drunk at the time and the police had pushed him to the floor and handcuffed him.

The court asked what happened when he was sprayed. “The effect of the spray was that I couldn’t see anything. I was still handcuffed on the floor.”

He indicated Jurgen Falzon as “the inspector,” explaining that when he had been taken to Hamrun, Falzon had signed off on the man’s release.

Cross-examined by Franco Debono, the witness confirmed that he had been placed under a treatment order for drug and alcohol abuse.

The lawyer suggested that the man had clashed with authority in the past, particularly in hospital. “Everybody, how they talk to me, I talk to them,” replied the witness. “If you are police, security or social worker, if you don’t show me respect, I am going to tell you I am not your family and treat them the same way they treat me.”

The witness said he was most upset at the gaslighting, being told that he was crazy because of the treatment order, whenever he tried speaking to the police to protect his rights.

Ali said he had broken a pane of glass at a shop by mistake and was taken to the police station. The shop owner, a certain Mustafa, was already there, he said. Pointing at Brincat he said he gave him a paper, before the officer had bent him over in a humiliating position with  everyone at the station laughing at him.

‘They started to hit me’

The second occasion he was arrested was in connection with a fight involving a woman. Magistrate Mifsud asked the man whether he had been read his rights before questioning.

“No. Second time, when they see me, they pushed me to the floor and handcuffed me.”

“When I was inside the police station, they told me ‘if we see you outside we will beat you,’” he said, pointing to the two male accused.

Debono suggested that Luca Brincat had not been inside the police station at the time of his first arrest. “Not true. He was the first one in the police station sitting in front of me…he was the one who opened the door,” replied the witness.

With respect to the second incident, he said the officers had arrived in a car. “I never fight the police. So the girl, she tells them this one he beat me [referring to himself] or something like that. Then they put me in the car. I don’t tell them nothing and they tell me nothing. Then they start to hit me.”

Witness insisted that he had not said a word, although he admitted to drinking more wine during the time he spent walking to the police station.

“Inspector” Jurgen Falzon was present at the police station on both times the man went to the station, he said.

One of the defence lawyers suggested that the accused had been somewhere else at the time. “Remember you were drunk,” he said. The witness insisted that they had been there. “At the police station I know them. All of them, I know them,” he said telling the court that he had the papers in a file at home.

Veronique Dalli asked him to confirm that one of the officers who beat him was not present in court today. He did.

The case continues later this month.

Inspectors Joseph Mercieca and Omar Zammit prosecuted. Lawyers Anthony Vella and Kaylie Bonnett are representing the Office of the Attorney General.

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.