Killing of Mitch Henriquez

Mitch Henriquez was killed by Dutch police at a music festival in the Hague on 27 June 2015. During an altercation, he was restrained by five police officers and was choked to death. The official narrative that Henriquez had died at the hospital was immediately disputed by bystanders who had filmed the incident; the killing led to four days of rioting in the Hague and a ban on public assembly. At trial two years later, two police officers were convicted and sentenced to six months in prison. On appeal, one sentence was quashed and the other upheld. At the final court of appeal, the Supreme Court, the remaining sentence was upheld in 2021. The case has been compared to other police homicides such as the murder of George Floyd and the death of Freddie Gray. RTL Nieuws revealed in 2021 that the Hague police force had spent €1.3 million on lawyers to defend the police officers involved in the killing.

KillingEdit

 
The Zuiderpark in the Hague

Aruban man Mitch Henriquez (aged 42) was on holiday in the Netherlands in the summer of 2015.[1][2] On 27 June, he went to the Night at the Park music festival which was headlined by UB40 at the Zuiderpark in the Hague.[3] He died after being arrested by five police officers, who choked him until he was dead.[2] On the police account, Henriquez had told the officers he had a weapon and then pointed at his crotch. The officers went to arrest him on suspicion of being armed, he resisted arrest and then became unwell as he was being transported to the police station.[4] This narrative was immediately contested by footage filmed by concerned bystanders which showed the police picking up Henriquez's limp corpse and moving it to the van.[4]

Immediate aftermathEdit

Henriquez was killed on Sunday and footage of his death immediately began to circulate on social media; #mitchhenriquez became the top Dutch hashtag on Twitter.[5] On Monday night, people gathered outside a police station in the inner-city district of Schilderswijk to protest, resulting in 61 arrests after three days of riots.[2] On the fourth night, the police announced a ban on the public assembly of more than three people, with use of weapons and scooters prohibited.[6] The police then arrested 200 people for breaching the order.[2]

Chief Public Prosecutor Kitty Nooy claimed that Henriquez had died in hospital. She said the autopsy stated that Henriquez had died of asphyxiation, as result of being choked. There were no natural causes of death and Henriquez's body did not contain alcohol or drugs. Five police officers were then suspended and put under investigation. Paul van Musscher, Chief of the Hague police force, said "it really went wrong".[7] On the Caribbean island of Aruba (a constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands) the killing received much coverage in the media.[7] Ronald Plasterk, the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations spoke to Mike Eman, the Prime Minister of Aruba, in order to assure him that a full investigation would be carried out.[8] One week later on Saturday 7 July, Henriquez's family led a silent procession of 300 people from Moerwijk station to the Zuiderpark.[8]

TrialEdit

The Public Prosecution Service (Dutch: Openbaar Ministerie, OM) decided in 2016 to charge two of the five police officers who had been suspended. It considered that the arrest was justified but the means of restraint was not. One of the two officers had clamped Henriquez's neck, the other had punched him in the face and sprayed pepper spray.[1] Of the other three officers, two were given written warnings.[9]

Henriquez's family responded that all five police officers should stand trial since they had not called an ambulance, despite the obvious need to do so.[1] The family had also requested twice without success for the names of the officers to be released.[9] The District Court of the Hague postponed the trial because a new expert report had given a different cause of death for Henriquez, namely cardiac arrest or heart arrhythmia. It was also noted that the conduct of former chief of police Gerard Bouman would be analysed since he had promised the five officers that they would not be sacked and that they would financially compensated for their suspension.[9]

The case came to trial in November 2017. Both officers said they felt threatened when Henriquez told them he had a gun and assumed he was serious when he stopped smiling.[10] The prosecution disputed this account, saying that the officers did not search for a firearm at any stage.[11] Since there were two differing explanations for Henriquez's death, a third specialist report had been commissioned and this expert told the court that Henriquez had died from acute stress as a result of police violence. A lip-reader affirmed that the police officers had known Henriquez was dead when they put him in the van, saying things such as "It's finished", "He doesn't respond" and "According to me, dead".[12] On day 4 of proceeding, the family of Henriquez and their supporters left the court en masse in protest at the lack of interest in new images they had presented showing that Henriquez was already turning blue before being lifted into the van.[13]

The two officers on trial were sentenced to a prison sentence of six months (suspended). The anonymous public servants were told that the use of a neck clamp, punching in the face and spraying pepper spray in the face were all illegal acts. The court believed they had caused the death of Henriquez but did not consider it murder.[14] Paul van Musscher expressed sympathy both for the family of Henriquez and for the officers involved, saying "No one wanted this to happen".[15]

The officers appealed their convictions and at an introductory hearing in 2018, their right to remain anonymous was upheld. The officers had given evidence in secret in court, using voice distorters, since they feared for the safety of their families.[16] In 2019, the court of appeal decided that one officer's conviction could be quashed and the other conviction for the neck clamp was fitting. Henriquez's mother disputed the verdict, saying "Officers can now continue to kill people".[17]

The sole remaining convicted police officer then took their case to the final court of appeal, the Supreme Court. In 2021, the court ruled that the neck clamp was illegal and the sentence was just. Members of the family of Henriquez were pleased with the verdict, although they expressed disbelief that the officers involved were still working for the force.[18]

LegacyEdit

The killing of Mitch Henriquez received sustained media attention in the Netherlands and was mentioned at Black Lives Matter protests.[19][5] It has been compared to the murder of George Floyd and the death of Freddie Gray.[20][5] Academic work has noted that it was only because the death of Henriquez was filmed that the false official narrative could be challenged and eventually overturned.[3][21]

A controversy developed in 2021, when it was revealed by RTL Nieuws that the Hague police force had spent €1.3 million on lawyers to defend the police officers involved in the killing of Mitch Henriquez. Richard Korver who represented Henriquez's mother in the case disclosed that he had been paid a total of €50,000. He commented "1.3 million is an outrageous amount of money. And the government is financing this".[22] The chairman of the Dutch Association of Criminal Lawyers said it was clear that the police officers were being given the best possible legal assistance and this created an imbalance in the proceedings.[22]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c "OM vervolgt twee agenten voor dood Mitch Henriquez". NU (in Dutch). 19 September 2016. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d Darroch, Gordon (3 July 2015). "Mass arrests in The Hague as clashes over death in police custody continue". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  3. ^ a b Mutsaers, Paul (2015). "Mitch Henriquez: Death-by-cop in the epicenter of global justice--and the virtues of (hashtag) activism". Anthropoliteia.
  4. ^ a b "Police suspended in Hague following Aruba man's death". Deutsche Welle. Reuters, AP, AFP. 1 July 2015. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  5. ^ a b c van Nuenen, Tom; Mutsaers, Paul (2016). "Police punishment and the infrapolitics of (online) anti-police protest". Tilburg Papers in Cultural Studies. 164.
  6. ^ "Riots Hit The Netherlands After Caribbean Man Dies In Police Custody". HuffPost. Reuters. 2 July 2015. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  7. ^ a b "Arubaanse arrestant kwam om door politiegeweld, vijf agenten verdacht [Aruban arrestee died of police brutality, five officers suspected]". NOS (in Dutch). 1 July 2015. Retrieved 12 January 2022. maar het is echt fout gegaan
  8. ^ a b Wijkhuijs, Vina; Ros, Anouk; van Duin, Menno (2016). "Overlijden arrestant leidt tot Haagse rellen [Death of arrestee leads to Hague riots]". In Wijkhuijs, Vina; van Duin, Menno (eds.). Lessen uit crises en mini-crises 2015 (PDF). pp. 123–138.
  9. ^ a b c "Dit is wat we weten over de zaak [This is what we know about the Mitch Henriquez case] Mitch Henriquez". NU (in Dutch). 19 September 2016. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  10. ^ "Agent: 'Henriquez zei dat hij echt een wapen had. Ik neem dan geen risico' [Officer: "Henriquez said he really had a gun. I wasn't taking any chances "]". RTL Nieuws (in Dutch). 13 November 2017. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  11. ^ "OM: Agenten wisten dat Henriquez geen wapen had [Public prosecutor: The officers knew Henriquez didn't have a gun]". Omroep West (in Dutch). 20 November 2017. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  12. ^ "Cops knew Aruban man was dead immediately after chokehold arrest: lip-reader". NL Times. 15 November 2017. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  13. ^ "Familie Mitch Henriquez verlaat rechtbank uit protest [Henriquez family leaves court in protest]". Hart van Nederland (in Dutch). 18 November 2017. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  14. ^ "Breaking: Agents of Mitch Henriquez death are sentenced to 6 (suspended) months of prison". Dutch Review. 21 December 2017. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  15. ^ "Politiechef: 'Verdriet om dood Mitch Henriquez is niet te compenseren'". Hart van Nederland (in Dutch). 21 December 2017. Retrieved 12 January 2022. Niemand heeft dit zo gewild
  16. ^ "Namen agenten zaak-Henriquez blijven geheim [Names of officers in Henriquez case stay secret]". Hart van Nederland (in Dutch). 5 December 2018. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  17. ^ "Familie Mitch Henriquez aangeslagen". Hart van Nederland (in Dutch). 19 June 2019. Retrieved 12 January 2022. Agenten kunnen nu mensen blijven doodmaken'
  18. ^ "Cop definitely convicted for Aruban man's chokehold death". NL Times. 17 February 2021. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  19. ^ Schenk, Leoni (17 June 2020). "Five years after Mitch Henriquez: "Officers are still barely prosecuted"". Caribbean Network. Retrieved 15 January 2022.
  20. ^ Sluiter, Göran. "George Floyd, Mitch Henriquez and criminal liability for police bystanders". Rethinking SLIC. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  21. ^ van Eck, Gerard Ritsema; Houwing, Lotte (2020). "Police Bodycams as Equiveillance Tools?: Reflections on the Debate in the Netherlands". Surveillance & Society. 18 (2): 284–287.
  22. ^ a b "Kritiek op 'peperdure' advocaten van agenten in zaak-Mitch Henriquez". RTL Nieuws (in Dutch). 22 February 2021. Retrieved 12 January 2022. 1,3 miljoen is schandelijk veel geld. En de overheid financiert dit.

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