German prosecutors have dropped assault charges against a policeman who admitted on WhatsApp that he had assaulted a refugee and said it was "funny." The officer is still being investigated for possessing child porn.
Hanover state prosecutors confirmed this week that they were dropping an abuse investigation into federal police officer Torsten S., who admitted to attacking and humiliating two refugees in police custody in Hanover.
Last May, regional broadcaster "Norddeutscher Rundfunk" revealed WhatsApp messages written by the now 40-year-old officer in March 2014 that read: "Beat him away. An Afghan. With an entry ban. Stuck my finger up his nose. And strangled him. Was funny. And dragged him through the police station by his foot manacles. That was nice. Squealed like a pig. It was a gift from Allah." The Afghan had been detained at Hanover railway station when he couldn't provide ID.
NDR also revealed that a few months later Torsten S. took a photo of another immigrant - a 19-year-old Moroccan - curled up on the floor and handcuffed, and may have forced him to eat rotten pork. In a WhatsApp message attached to the photo, the officer wrote, "This is a Moroccan ... [name of the officer's immediate superior, redacted by NDR] said that he heard him upstairs, that he squealed like a pig. Then the bastard ate the leftover rotten pork out of the fridge. Off the floor." The young man had been found with a small quantity of marijuana.
The exposé caused widespread outrage in Germany last year, with condemnations from the state premier of Lower Saxony, Stephan Weil, the federal commissioner for refugees, Aydan Özoguz, and the Federal Interior Ministry, as well as both major police unions and the refugee organization Pro Asyl.
But despite the text messages and the photo, state prosecutors said on Tuesday there was "a lack of sufficient suspicion of a crime." After carrying out an "extremely thorough investigation," prosecutors said they could find "no indication of a systematic abuse of people in police custody."
The statement added that the officer was still being investigated for possession of child pornography and illegal possession of a pump gun and ammunition, both of which were found during a search of his home.
Outrage and disbelief
The prosecutors did not respond to a request for comment from DW, but spokeswoman Anna Tafelski told the "taz" newspaper that the "testimonies of the witness from Morocco and the accused on the possible course of events were contradictory."
Matthias Waldraff, the lawyer representing the Moroccan immigrant, told DW that the police had promised him access to the files on the case in September last year, but this had only been granted this week - after the prosecutors had made their verdict public. Waldraff said it was only on Tuesday that he had found out that the policeman had testified that he had taken the photo of the Moroccan on the floor to document that the young man had not been injured in custody.
"That is of course complete nonsense and not credible," said Waldraff. "The Moroccan is clothed in the photo - you can't prove whether someone has been kicked in the upper body or not from that."
The officer also testified that the Moroccan had been cuffed because he had been running riot in his cell. This also made no sense to Waldraff. "If someone has been rioting in their cell they are automatically and without exception put under investigation for resisting officers," he said. "There has never been an investigation against the Moroccan for resistance."
A day in court
Waldraff believes state prosecutors and police are keen to sweep the case away as soon as possible. "It all leads to no other conclusion than that they clearly wanted to get the whole thing off the table quietly," he said. "This photo, which was discussed by the whole country, must be examined in court. We won't allow that to be quietly swept away, and that's why we're filing a complaint."
"In Germany we have a situation where lawmakers, and politicians, and state prosecutors, and authorities have been saying for 10 or 15 years that the rights of crime victims need to be strengthened, but when a case comes up where they can act on that, it doesn't happen," he added.
The authorities that expressed unanimous outrage when the text messages came to light last year were much more cautious this week. When contacted by DW, a spokeswoman for Özoguz's office said she could not comment because they had only read one newspaper article on the matter.
Equally, Oliver Malchow, chairman of the police union GdP, had spoken last May of his "shame and anger" at the incident. But on Friday, GdP spokesman Martin Shilff would only tell DW, "It's certainly difficult to understand, but we have to trust the work of the state prosecutors. And if that's what they say now, then we have to believe them."