Police Accountability in Italy
A 31 year-old guy, Stefano Cucchi, is arrested on the night between the 15 and 16th October 2009 in Rome, for possessing a small dose of hashish. A week later, Stefano dies, while still in police custody. No explanation is given for his death. After 5 days, the family is allowed, eventually, to see Stefano’s body. After seeing him the family, decides to make public the images of his dead body. These are really scary pictures. They can be seen here.
It isn’t the first time that this has happened, in Italy. A person dies while in custody of the police (in the case of Stefano, it was the Carabinieri). The family wants to know how that could be possible. They are not allowed to ask. Stefano’s parents were never allowed to see him after his arrest. When he appeared in court, the day after being arrested, Stefano had bruises on his face. The medical service at the Court asked for the guy to be hospitalised before the trial, given the bad conditions in which they found him. He was in good state at the time of the arrest, 14 hours earlier. True, he had chronic underlying health problems, related to epilepsy, anorexia and drug use. But when he is sent to the Pertini hospital (after the Court’s decision to hospitalize him), he is discovered to have fractured vertebrae, ecchymoses over his body, a broken jaw . He eventually dies on the 22nd.
Why did he have fractures all over his body? The medical service at Regina Coeli Prison, where Stefano was taken after the arrest, said that “he accidentally had fallen from the stairs”.
His parents, Rita and Giovanni, have been denied the permission to see Stefano during the entire time in hospital: that is, until he died. On the 19th, they were refused to talk to the doctors. On the 20th, they were told they need a court permission which still had not arrived. On the 21 the permission arrived, but still required validation from the prison. On the 22nd, Stefano died, alone.
There was no abuse – the Carabinieri claimed after his death. He was epileptic, that’s why he died. The Italian Minister of Defence, Ignazio La Russa, was quick to praise the loyalty and value of the Carabinieri: “I have no information to evaluate this case. However, there is one thing I am sure: the correct behaviour of the Carabinieri on this (i.e. Stefano’s) occasion.”
His optimism was, to some extent, counterbalanced by the Justice Minister Angelino Alfano, who announced today that an inquiry is to start “for an immediate in-depth examination”. Unfortunately, Alfano’s name is linked to the Lodo Alfano, the bill designed to (some say) protect the PM Berlusconi from a series of trials, following a series of crimes, that, according to some, he has committed in the last 15 years to build and preserve his empire. The bill has been recently rejected as violating the Italian Constitution. Some might remain unexcited in the face of Alfano’s plea for justice.
Sadly, the story of Stefano is not a new one. On 26th June 2008, Nikki Aprile Gatti, 26 year-old from Avezzano, “committed suicide” in jail where he had been taken in connection to an inquiry over internet fraud. His mum never believed the suicide story, and has since then campaigned for the truth over what happened to Nikki. She has a created a lovely blog, where she writes of her pain for the loss of her kid and of updates about the inquiry.
Federico Aldrovandi, 18, from Ferrara, died in the early morning of 25th September 2005, killed by 4 policemen who had stopped him for a control. I say he was killed because the four policemen have recently been found guilty of manslaughter. This is Federico, before and after meeting them:
None of the four policemen is actually in jail. Yet, they are guilty.
Stefano, Nikki, and many others who have died in terrible conditions in italian prisons, without a trial, without permission to meet their family, but with broken bones: they are signals of a worrying tendency in Italy towards an increased lack of accountability for police behaviour. The media seem to be the only body to whom citizens can appeal nowadays to call police to account: there seems to be no official oversight bodies, and we know that the media in Italy are not completely free. The G8 in Genoa in 2001 was the first symptom of a change in police conduct: none of those responsible for the clear abuses against the protesters has eventually been condemned. Searching for an explanation of another “Italian anomaly”, I have found this book from Prof. Della Porta who analyses recent misbehaviour of Italian Police. The introduction highlights the relevance of the scarce police accountability. Indymedia has an interesting article that tries to interpret what’s going on inside italian prisons.
Until strong evidence is given for the death of Stefano Cucchi, it falls to us to be critical of police practices, and pressure them to account for their actions.