Police officers accused of fatally assaulting Mitch Henriquez go on trial

Statue of justice.

Photo: Depositphotos.com

The trial of two police officers involved in the death of Aruban tourist Mitch Henriquez in The Hague two years ago is getting under way after months of delays.

The 42-year-old died after being pinned to the ground by five police officers and bundled into a police van as he left the Parkpop music festival in The Hague in June 2015. Police said they reacted after Henriquez claimed he was carrying a gun.

His death triggered several nights of rioting in the Schilderswijk district of The Hague, an area with a large minority ethnic population where distrust in the police is widespread among younger residents.

The trial was due to begin in April but was delayed when lawyers for the two officers produced a pathologist’s report indicating Henriquez may have died of heart failure. This contradicted the Dutch forensic institute’s conclusion that he died as a result of being held in a choke hold while on the ground.

Better video

On the first day of the hearing on Monday, the family’s lawyer said he had obtained video images of Henriquez’s arrest that revealed previously unseen details of the incident.

Richard Korver said the pictures were clearer and showed Henriquez’s face turning purple before he passed out under restraint. Bystanders could be heard shouting ‘he’s not alive any more’ and ‘disgraceful, you’ve killed him’ at police, Korver claimed.

Lawyers for the officers said they would object to the footage being shown in court if their clients could be identified. ‘We don’t know if these tapes have been tampered with,’ they added.

The court rejected a request by Korver to postpone the hearing while judges decide whether to admit the pictures as evidence. A decision will be taken later in the week.

Failed attempts

Henriquez’s family said in an interview in the Volkskrant on Monday that police had frustrated their efforts to find out what happened in the Zuiderpark two years ago. ‘We want to know exactly what happened,’ said his mother, Maria, 68. ‘That means having a proper talk with them. That’s what we have asked for, through the police and their lawyers. But every time the answer is “no.”‘

The wanted to have all five officers who were involved in restraining him put on trial, but the public prosecution service opted instead to charge two of them with assault with fatal consequences. An attempt to force disclosure of the officers’ names so they could be called as witnesses in a civil hearing was also dismissed.

The prosecution is due to submit its sentencing request next Monday. The two officers will give evidence from behind screens and have their voices distorted to protect their identity.

All five were internally disciplined by the police force, but none has been dismissed from service.