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Death in a police station: 6 months investigation with no results

Kremenchug resident Roman Pustovy died on 18 March 2006 in the Avtozavodsky district police station. Seven months later the prosecutor’s office has yet to give any statement as to the cause of his death

Kremenchug resident Roman Pustovy died on 18 March 2006 in the Avtozavodsky district police station. His death came at the end of the election campaign, and therefore in the flurry of political events did not receive a lot of media attention. However the circumstances of this case make it impossible to forget it and let it lie in the prosecutor’s office archives. On the contrary, they demand that those responsible for the death of Roman Pustovy be brought to answer. On 18 October it was seven months since his death, and the prosecutor’s office has still not given a statement as to the cause of his death.

The established facts

If on the day of his death and for the subsequent week it was impossible to get any reliable information, by today there is a clear chain of facts which make it possible to accurately trace the events

Roman Pustovy, at around 23.00 on 17 March arrived at the home of his estranged wife, Iryna Pustova. It is known that on 7 March Iryna had filed for divorce. Roman came to attempt reconciliation and was under the influence of alcohol. 

Iryna Pustova refused to let him into the flat and asked him to go away. Roman did not want to leave, kept knocking at the door, asking to be let in and talking with her through the door. Iryna called the police patrol through the station’s duty officer. The police patrol arrived quickly and detained Roman Pustovy for petty hooliganism. Once the officers had detained Roman, Iryna opened the door and saw him. She says that aside from his jacket sleeve being smudged with white chalk, he was clean and without injuries.

Around 12 p.m. Roman Pustovy was brought to the Avtozavodsky district police station in Kremenchug.  There he was put in one of the three cells. At 1.38 a.m. the city ambulance service received a call from the police station asking for an ambulance for Roman Pustovy. The reason given for the callout was a nose bleed.

An ambulance team was sent, headed by Dr. N.I. Tantsyura who examined Pustovy. According to her, Roman had no injuries, and there was already no nose bleed, however a look into his mouth showed the remains of blood, indicating that there really had been bleeding. However the doctor found no other signs of injury.

Roman Pustovy died at around seven o’clock in the morning of 18 March. The final doctor’s death certificate, issued by the Kremenchug Forensic Examination Department, states that he died as the result of a closed brain injury, fractures of the cranial bones and haemorrhaging between the second and third (dura) membrane of the brain and the cerebrum.

The different sides presented

The basic position of officers of the Avtozavodsky district police station is that Roman Pustovy had these injuries when he was taken into custody. This led to questioning of Pustovy’s widow and her sister Tetyana who lives with Iryna. Iryna Pustova was questioned on 18 March for six hours during which she was called on to “confess”.  At their regular press conference the head of the Kremenchug city department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Vasyl Ovcharenko stated that a preliminary investigation had shown that the fracture to the skull had been caused by blows from a blunt flat object, possibly a cutting board or frying pan. The possibility that Roman Pustovy had been beaten by officers from the Avtozavodsky police station Ovcharenko emphatically rejected, saying: “There was no reason to beat him; he behaved in a peaceful manner”.  The police officers have thus attempted to present Roman’s death as the result of a domestic quarrel in which they were set up with the person through chance dying on their ground.

Iryna Pustova denied any guilt and asserts that there was no row with the use of force. The police has come up with a version about it having been the sisters’ father who beat up Roman who in theory could have bumped into him on the stairs near Iryna’s flat. This version has also been categorically denied. All the more so since their father is a professor of the city university who according to his daughters has never raised his fist against anybody. And it is unlikely that he could have met Roman.

The prosecutor’s office version is not much different from that of the police. A criminal case was launched over the death of Pustovy and handed for investigation to the Avtozavodsky district police station. True, after a while the Poltava region prosecutor’s office took the case for further scrutiny and concluded that a refusal to launch a criminal investigation over involvement of police officers was somewhat premature, and needed further study.

This may have occurred thanks to the numerous appeals addressed to the President, the Prosecutor General and the Minister of Internal Affairs Yury Lutsenko. The case was again passed to the Kremenchug prosecutor’s office where it has remained.

While in the hands of the Avtozavodsky district police station, the Pustovy case gained one more version from the police officers. In the view of the station’s investigators, Roman … tripped on the way to his wife’s flat and arrived with a fractured skull.  Witnesses were even found who claimed to have seen this. Two elderly ladies from the second entrance to the neighbouring block of flats believed that they had seen a person who looked like Roman fall in the square in front of the block at around 23.00 on 17 March. This version arouses scepticism since one has only to see the place from where the ladies are supposed to have seen Roman falling to understand that this was simply impossible, especially at night. In fact it is not only for this reason that the version is flawed.

Roman Pustovy’s father, Yury Pustovy has been in close contact with journalists all these six months and has demonstrated steady determination in his wish to achieve justice in this case. He is convinced that his son was killed by the police officers. “The prosecutor’s office is stubborn in not wanting to see or talk about this. They are looking for any change to drag the investigation out and avoid its being concluded”, Yury Volodymyrovych asserts.

The results of the investigation

In June Yury Pustovy was recognized a victim in the case and received the opportunity to read the results of the extended forensic medical examination.  Yury Volodymyrovych believes that these results showed three things. Firstly, that there were two skull fractures, and also other injuries which are classified as serious.  Secondly, the two fractures were not connected, since the cracks which extended from the centres of the fractures were perpendicular to each other and one did not arise from the other. Finally, the way the fractures were formed made it impossible to assert that they had come about as the result of a free fall from the level of his own height.  That is, Roman had not fallen near the building as the two night-watching old ladies and the officers from the police station had claimed.

In fact, as a result of the forensic examination, something else is stated, namely that “after the injuries received, the victim could move about for a certain amount of time”.  Such extremely vague wording requires further examination. The results of the first forensic medical examination were available back in June, yet as of the present day there are no results from the supplementary examination which could state clearly how much time after receiving his injuries, Roman could have still been alive, since a certain amount of time “ could be a week, a month, or a minute, while “move about” can be crawling, or running.

The Kremenchug prosecutor Viktor Pavliychuk promises that in October the prosecutor’s office will make a decision. He says that there are at the moment no grounds for believing that the serious bodily injuries which Roman suffered were inflicted by police officers. Why aren’t there? Because there aren’t any witnesses. Yet, some procedures have yet to be carried out by the prosecutor’s office investigators. The basis of such procedure is “a meeting face to face”, in which the investigation has to question at the same time the duty police officers and the doctor team of the ambulance service to ascertain who came the investigation unit false testimony. The prosecutor is promising to carry out this procedure when the supplementary examination is completed.  At present, one thing is clear – somebody, either the doctors or the police officers are simply lying, and the prosecutor’s office doesn’t know who to believe.

Experts’ comments

From the outset Amnesty International, which gathers information about possible cases of torture and ill-treatment by the police, took an interest in the investigation into the circumstances of this case.  For the journalists’ investigation, they gave their own commentary. AI investigator for Europe and Central Asia Heather McGill, who has been collecting information about how the case is proceeding, reported the following AI position: “The case is of importance for Ukraine and AI since if the Ukrainian authorities carry out an unbiased and efficient investigation, this will demonstrate its serious intention to overcome impunity for acts of torture and ill-treatment. AI fears that the prosecutor’s office will not be able to ensure the impartiality of the investigation due to a conflict of interests. This conflict of interests is based on the fact that the bodies responsible for the investigation and the punishment of those guilty of general crimes are fulfilling the same function in relation to officers of those bodies which committed the crime. The prosecutor’s office could in theory play a leading role in preventing torture and other forms of ill-treatment. However in the majority of cases which AI is  aware of, where it was a matter of allegations of torture and ill-treatment, the prosecutor’s office has done nothing. Furthermore, certain lawyers whom representatives of Amnesty International have spoken with believe that the prosecutor’s office is more creating the given problem, than assisting in its resolution”.


One could count the number of cases where police officers have faced criminal liability on the fingers of one hand. Most often they “get away with it” since their worst risk is being dismissed. For example one police officer from Kremenchug was driving a car while intoxicated and ran down and killed three people. He was punished … with an undertaking not to abscond and retrospective dismissal from the law enforcement bodies. They didn’t even take his licence away. He is therefore working at present in one of the taxi services. Other cases of punishment of criminals in police uniform are insignificant. Is the prosecutor’s office responsible, or the state in general, being unable to ensure mechanisms of defence of the rights of citizens in these cases? Roman Pustovy’s father doesn’t care which. For him what matters is that the prosecutor’s officer must submit the case to the court, and the court must impose just sentences on those guilty of his son’s death. However he does not believe in the efficiency of the prosecutor’s office and has lodged an administrative suit against the Avtozavodsky district police station in order to prove the duty of the police officers to safeguard Roman’s health while being held in the police station.

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