Images have emerged of a police officer making what appears to be a Nazi salute while multiple other officers restrain a man who later died in police custody.
Slovakian Jozef Chovanec was arrested at Belgium’s Charleroi airport in 2018 after causing a disturbance on his flight. Put in a cell, he began to act erratically, banging his head against a wall until he started to bleed.
At this point, officers tried to restrain Chovanec, and video from his cell shows one officer sitting on his rib cage for 16 minutes. The footage, obtained by Belgian newspaper Het Laatse Nieuws, also shows a group of officers laughing and one making a Nazi salute, while appearing to hold her fingers to her face to represent a Hitler moustache.
Chovanec was hospitalised after the incident, but fell into a coma and died the following day. An autopsy showed he had not been under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and it is unknown why he was acting erratically.
An investigation into Chovanec’s death has been ongoing for two years, but his wife, Henrieta, is now calling for the appointment of a new judge. According to her lawyer, Henrieta “feels like they’re trying to cover it up”.
“Something seemed to be going on with my husband – he wasn’t feeling well,” she told Het Laatse Niews. “But the police ignored my husband all night. When they saw the blood, they should have given him first aid. Instead, they sat on him. He couldn’t breathe properly.”
“[After seeing] the videos of the arrest of the American George Floyd, I immediately thought, ‘My husband died the same way,’ only the police also flat-out laughed at my husband and a policewoman next to him did a Hitler salute. I want to know what happened and why [the police] behaved that way.”
Paul Magnette, mayor of Charleroi, tweeted Thursday, “I, like many, am shocked by the images in the media. Such behaviour is unacceptable. As for the Federal Police under the authority of the Minister of the Interior, I ask the latter to shed full light on this behaviour.”
A spokesperson for the Charleroi public prosecutor's office said, “The family’s next of kin have asked twice for additional inquiries concerning the interrogation.” They added that all of the officers captured in the footage have already been interviewed, and blamed “the crisis surrounding COVID-19” for a delay.
A police spokesperson told Belgian website Sudinfo that the officer pictured giving the Nazi salute would be dismissed as of Thursday.