RIU officer testifies in police brutality claims, didn't recall seeing blood

After being stopped by police for driving erratically, the driver claims he was beaten by officers

An RIU policeman who took part in the arrest of Jean Paul Aquilina, which sparked an outcry over allegations of police brutality, has told a court that while Aquilina did have a small cut under his eye, when he had spoken to him at the scene, he did not recall seeing blood.

Aquilina is pleading not guilty to charges of dangerous driving, disobeying police orders and assaulting police officers Mark Tonna and David Camilleri. Charges of dangerous driving, driving without a seatbelt and using a mobile telephone whilst driving were also added later on.

Aquilina’s lawyer, Mario Demarco, is accusing the police of brutally beating his client whilst he was in custody.

In a previous sitting, Magistrate Carol Peralta had been told how, at around 3am on 3 May, the police Rapid Intervention Unit (RIU) had stopped a car that had been driving erratically on the Mgarr road. The driver had repeatedly given false particulars to the police, resisted arrest and had injured policemen in the incident. 

Today, one of the arresting officers, PC Kurt Gauci, recalled how he had responded to a call for assistance over the radio on the night of the incident, on the road to Mgarr.

“When I got there I saw three people. Two were on the floor and one was on his knees. They were on the road-side of the car, not the kerb-side. I parked my car in such as way as to protect them from oncoming traffic.

He recalled how a woman, whom he later identified as Aquilina’s girlfriend, had begged him not to beat her boyfriend up. He said he remembered this because he found this request odd as he had no intention of doing so.

"I saw a policeman on the floor, Jean Paul on top of him with his hands around his collar. I saw another policeman with a cap on trying to restrain Jean Paul. I tried to calm him down. ”

They eventually succeeded in putting the suspect in handcuffs, he said. A short while later, a van pulled up with five persons, whom he said he later found out were the accused’s family, on board. They demanded to know if he had beaten Aquilina up. He did not know how the family had been informed of their relative’s arrest.

Magistrate Carol Peralta asked the policeman whether he had noticed any injuries on the accused. Gauci replied that the accused had shown him a cut under his eye “that looked like a punch”. Asked whether the policemen who had been arresting him had any visible injuries, he said that one of them had his uniform pulled out of shape.

“Jean Pierre was enraged, red in the face,” the constable said of the accused, “I was wondering what [drug] he had taken because he wasn’t behaving normally.”

No breathalyser test was taken, he explained, because no breathalyser test kit was kept in the RIU car. He had insisted on the test being administered at the police station but had not seen them take it. He confirmed that he detected no smell of alcohol on Aquilina’s breath.

Cross-examined by Aquilina’s lawyer, he said that usually 30 people are on duty in an RIU shift. He also told the court that he had been working on the same shifts as the two policemen involved in this incident for “about six months.”

Gauci was shown a photo of Aquilina’s injuries, which the lawyer said included a bloody nose. He said that he had not seen the nose injury but had seen the cut under his eye, which was much smaller at the time.

He could not remember seeing any blood on his face or clothes. Neither could he remember seeing scratches on his neck, but he pointed out that he had been on the scene for less than five minutes.

He remembered that his face was red. De Marco pressed him on whether he saw any blood, but he could not remember. “He said twice that he wanted to go fight the policemen.”

De Marco asked him whether he had not been curious as to why a person in the hands of the police was punched, but he replied that he had not asked his colleagues about it.

“You had a person who had evidently been punched in the face, his girlfriend begging you not to hit him and you do not ask him whether one of the two policemen had punched him?”

“I had got the impression that they knew each other” he replied.

The case continues later this month, with some ten witnesses yet to testify.

Police inspector Nicholas Vella is prosecuting. Lawyer Abigail Chretien is appearing parte civile for the police union.

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