Man acquitted of resisting arrest as court says he was pistol-whipped by police

The man told the court how his car was boxed in by police vehicles and one constable put a revolver to his head and threatened to shoot him, before pistol-whipping him

A man has been cleared of violently resisting arrest and filing a false police report after a court heard him claim that he had been beaten up and threated with death by the arresting officers.

36-year-old Joseph Azzopardi had been charged with filing a false report, fabricating evidence, violently resisting arrest, insulting or threatening a police officer, swearing in public, breaching the peace and failing to obey legitimate police orders.

Magistrate Marse-Anne Farrugia heard Inspector Carlos Cordina explain how, on 10 February 2006, two police officers had been dispatched to the Hagar Qim restaurant to deal with a brawl. The situation had already calmed down by the time they had arrived, and so the officers had left the investigation to district police. 

But on their way back, they found the road blocked by a small car, 100m away from the restaurant. Azzopardi had allegedly got out of the vehicle and accused the police of stealing a gold bracelet of his, as his wife and children insulted the police, calling them “thieves.” The officers said they saw the accused make as if to retrieve something from his car and so had arrested him.  A struggle ensued in which the accused was injured, they said.

Azzopardi, however, told the court a different version of events. He had been eating at the restaurant with his family when a fight broke out on another table. Angry at having his children exposed to the violent scene, the accused punched the table and left with his family in tow. On his way home, he said, he had noticed that his bracelet had gone missing and so he returned to the restaurant to retrieve it. 

He met up with a police mobile unit squad car while en route and had asked the officers to accompany him to find the bracelet, but was told that there were more officers at the restaurant. Azzopardi claimed the officer had sworn at him when he insisted on being assisted and an argument ensued. 

The man told the court how his car was then boxed in by police vehicles and one constable alighted, put a revolver to his head and threatened to shoot him, before pistol-whipping him. The other officer got out and started beating him up too, he said. A number of other officers had joined in, Azzopardi claimed.

Azzopardi suffered a bloody nose, swelling around his eyes, and needed stitches to his head. None of the officers were injured.

The court observed that “for reasons which do not emerge from the file, the prosecution didn’t see fit to summon…the police officer whom the accused alleges had been the most arrogant and violent towards him,” saying this raised question about the credibility of the prosecution’s case. It also noted that the accused admitted to having been angry at the fact that the police did not cooperate with his request to find the bracelet.

The court said it was morally convinced that, whatever the reason for which the accused was stopped, the conversation escalated and excessive force was used. It was not contested that the accused was thrown to the ground to be arrested, however the man’s grievous facial injuries were not compatible with injuries incurred whilst on the ground, but with blows, possibly with a hard object. It also noted that none of the arresting officers had suffered any injuries at all, despite the man’s alleged resistance. 

For these reasons, the court ruled that the prosecution had failed to prove its accusations beyond reasonable doubt and acquitted the man of all charges.

Lawyer Edward Gatt was defence counsel.