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Death in Police Custody: Official and Unofficial Versions

Halya Coynash
Dmitry Pozdeev’s brief life ended on September 29, two days after being taken into police custody. He had been taking part in “investigative activities” when he died supposedly of an acute heart disorder

Dmitry Pozdeev’s brief life ended on September 29, two days after being taken into police custody. The 19-year-old from Dnipropetrovsk was suspected of carrying out thefts in Zaporizhya and had been taking part in “investigative activities” when he died.  Beyond this the story is blurred and full of worrying contradictions.  

According to the official version posted on the Zaporizhya Regional Police site, Pozdeev was taken from the police Temporary Holding Unit to the Komunarsky District Police Station in Zaporizhya for an investigative experiment some time on Sunday, Sept. 29.  With their customary disregard for the presumption of innocence, the police state that the young man had been arrested for carrying out thirteen thefts. 

They also assert that the investigative activities were outside the police station in the presence of formal witnesses and that they were recorded.  Pozdeev was only then, they allege, returned to the police station to draw up official documents. “20 minutes later the suspect became unwell. He fell and began gasping for breath”.  According to this version, an ambulance was called immediately, the doctors arrived, and the young man died around 20 minutes later, in the ambulance.

Media reports give a different version. One of the very first reports on Oct. 1 said that doctors had told their correspondent unofficially that the ambulance doctors had pronounced the young man dead when they arrived at the police station.  They had allegedly tried to resuscitate him but without success.  They did not notice obvious signs of beating on Pozdeev’s body but told their colleagues that for around an hour the police refused to let them leave demanding that they wrote in their records that the young man had died in the ambulance, not before their arrival.

The police assert that a forensic medical analysis found the cause of death to have been an acute heart disorder. 

Another media site reports Pozdeev’s girlfriend and friends as saying that they had never heard anything about a heart disorder.  If this was acute before the young man was brought to the police station, it would seem strange that nobody was aware of it.

The first media report was on Oct. 1, two days after Dmitry Pozdeev died.  The young man was an orphan, brought up in institutions, and it is not clear if anybody besides the forensic medical team called in by the police has formally examined his body.  It will shortly be difficult to do so since his funeral is taking place on Friday, Oct. 4.  Photos have just been posted on apparently taken by the dead man’s friends in the morgue.  If they are of Pozdeev, then they give reason for questioning the official version. 

Not the first

Perhaps the upbeat noises from the police, Prosecutor and Health Ministry, are warranted.  The police, however, have only themselves to blame for public skepticism. 

It is over three years since another 19-year-old, Ihor Indylo died on the eve of what should have been his twentieth birthday.  The police were on that occasion prevented from concealing the death of a perfectly healthy young student in police custody by journalists from TV 1 + 1. Faced with widespread public anger once the news spread, the Prosecutor’s office initiated a criminal investigation.  Two officers subsequently faced very limited charges of “exceeding authority” and “professional negligence”. Serhiy Kovalenko was amnestied while Serhiy Prykhodko received a 5 year conditional sentence. He had not even been suspended from his position.  There is an ongoing court case supposedly aimed at ascertaining how Indylo received the blow which caused his death, but since the Prosecutor has successfully hampered all attempts, supported by Ihor Indylo’s parents, to seek further investigation before a new court examination, it is difficult to believe in the authorities’ commitment to establishing the truth.

Three years, and many other deaths in police custody later, there seem no grounds for believing that anything has been learned,   Perhaps the law enforcement bodies are telling the truth, however the only chance of finding that out will be if the media and civic organizations take up the story and force an investigation.  If the official version is fiction, then silence is terrifying. 

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