Belgium custody death: 'Shocked' police chief steps aside
Belgium's director-general of police has said he is deeply moved by a video showing a Slovak man being pinned down in a cell hours before he died. In the graphic video, Chovanec is seen banging his head against the wall of his cell and eventually bleeding. Officers then forcibly restrain him. A female officer appears to make a Hitler salute while laughing and a male officer is seen sitting on the man's chest for 16 minutes. Chovanec, 38, died of a cardiac arrest in hospital the following day.
The video was released by his widow, Henrieta Chovancova, after she became frustrated with a two-year inquiry that police said had been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. "Why did they treat him like this? Worse than even an animal, like he wasn't even a human being," she told Belgium's VRT News. She told Het Laatste Nieuws; "After the videos of the arrest of the American George Floyd, I immediately thought, 'my husband died the same way', except that police also laughed out loud at my husband and a policewoman next to him did a Hitler salute."
A lawyer for the policewoman told Het Laatste Nieuws that she was interviewed by the police inquiry in May 2018 and was asked about the video. "She was embarrassed but it was a kind of knee-jerk reaction," François Feron told the paper. "Because she heard Jozef Chovanec making accusations - she assumes in German or a Slavic language - at the time and in that context she thought a Hitler salute was funny. Wrongly, of course, but she realises that too."