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Stanislav Tomáš: Czech police maintain officers not resposnible for Roma man's death

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By Matthew Holroyd
A man asks a police officer to handcuff him during a rally honouring Stanislav Tomas.
A man asks a police officer to handcuff him during a rally honouring Stanislav Tomas.   -   Copyright  Ondrej Hajek/CTK via AP

Czech police have repeated that the death of a Roma man in police custody was not related to the actions of arresting officers.

An autopsy expert this week ruled that the man died of "meth intoxication", police said.

It comes after the death of 46-year-old Stanislav Tomáš in June drew a backlash from the Czech Republic's Roma community.

Many have drawn parallels to the death of George Floyd in the United States last year, which sparked global protests.

The Glasgow-based rights group Romano Lav has previously condemned the police narrative, even if Tomáš had been under the influence of drugs.

"[The report] does not legitimise the police brutality and at least potentially lethal use of force that the video so clearly [shows]," a statement read.

What do we know?

According to Czech police, Stanislav Tomáš died of a drug overdose after he was arrested in the northern city of Teplice on June 19.

Officers were alerted to two men who were allegedly assaulting each other and people's cars, an initial police statement said.

"Upon arrival at the scene, officers found a shirtless man with apparent injuries lying on the ground."

The police then say the man became aggressive, "scratching and biting" police officers as soon as they approached him. Video footage of the arrest was widely circulated on social media in the Czech Republic.

In the video, one of the three officers can be seen kneeling on the man's chest and neck for around five minutes. Tomáš collapsed in an ambulance and later died despite resuscitation efforts.

Police state that the officers did not use excessive force, despite anger from Roma activists.

The authorities have been backed by both Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Interior Minister Jan Hamáček.

Ondrej Hajek/CTK via AP
A "Roma Lives Matter" banner is held during a rally honouring Stanislav Tomas.Ondrej Hajek/CTK via AP

'Methamphetamine intoxication'

On Tuesday, Czech police in the Ústí nad Labem Region released a further statement reiterating that officers were not responsible for Tomáš' death.

"The Regional Police Directorate ... has received the final autopsy report from the Department of Forensic Medicine at Masaryk Hospital on the case of a man who died shortly after being detained by police in Teplice on 19 June 2021."

"The expert report concludes that there is no connection between the police intervention and the man's death," police said.

"The death was directly causally linked to methamphetamine intoxication," they added.

The police had previously said that the 46-year-old died after a "foreign substance of the amphetamine family" affected his "coronary arteries".

The country's police inspectorate has previously stated that it does not believe any criminal offence was committed by police officers in the arrest.

Tomáš' family have dismissed the police reports and have filed a criminal complaint, blaming the three officers for his death.

Concerns for the Roma community

Amid widespread media attention, Czech and international organisations have also called for an investigation.

The Council of Europe said footage of the arrest was "alarming and raises numerous questions about the circumstances of this tragic incident".

"The Council of Europe is calling for an urgent, thorough, and independent investigation," the body said in June. Amnesty International issued a similar call.

More than two hundred people also gathered outside the Czech embassy in Bucharest to protest, displaying banners that read "Roma Lives Matter".

The Roma -- Europe’s largest minority of around 10 to 12 million people -- have long suffered from "prejudice and social exclusion," according to the European Commission.

Additional sources • David Hutt, Associated Press