Racial profiling by Federal police officers: This man is not a pickpocket

Two Federal police officers stopped a man from Leipzig at the train station. Because of his skin colour. He filed a lawsuit and won. The inspection was unlawful.

Film director Kanwal Sethi only wanted to travel to Erfurt Foto: privat

LEIPZIG taz | It was Monday, 31 March 2014. It was unusually warm for that time of year and the sky was light blue. The Leipzig film director Kanwal Sethi got up early to make the journey from his home town to Erfurt. This journey was to take over his life for approximately three years, infuriate him and ultimately take him to court.

Sethi is a German citizen who was born in India. On that morning in March, he had to go to Erfurt for business. That same morning, he returned to the train station to go back to Leipzig. What happened next is something that often happens to Kanwal Sethi. 'This happens more in the East than in the West, and all the time in Saxony,’ he says. Two Federal police officers, Gerd H. and Thomas S., stopped him and wanted to record his personal data. Sethi suspected that the officers were stopping him simply because of the colour of his skin.

He says that in all the time he spent on the platform, more than 15 minutes, neither officer asked any other person for proof of their identity. He politely made them aware that racial profiling is a violation of the constitutional principle of equality and according to international law is an act of discrimination.

Sethi is convinced he behaved discretely, and that there is no reason for the inspection. Angrily, he finally shows them his ID card.

However, he would also like to see the police officer’s IDs, because the plain clothes officers are on the way. He must be astonished to find out that neither of them had one. Sethi got their names and boards his train to travel home. Then he complains to the Federal Police. When he himself is blamed in the response given to him in taz, Sethi hires a lawyer. On 6 August 2014, his complaint is being brought before the Administrative Court in Dresden.

“He acted like a thief“

Today, Sethi’s file is hundreds of pages long, including Sethi’s ticket receipts and several requests by the relevant Federal Police Headquarters in Pirna to “extend the deadline for comments once again“, because until the beginning of 2015 there was only one legal advisor capable of handling this.

Anyone who takes action against a Federal Police Headquarters and with it a federal authority is also filing a suit against the Federal Republic of Germany. Normally the claimant submits a statement of claim, which is answered either with an acknowledgement or a statement of defence. In such a case, the statement of defence is then written by a legal administrator on the basis of reports submitted to them by the officials who have been accused.

The first reports from federal policemen revealed by Kanwal Sethi are dated 1 April 2014, which is already one day after the incident at Erfurt station. „They could certainly imagine that there was something coming after I got their names“ says Sethi. In their deployment record there is indeed mention of an “expected disciplinary complaint“. The policemen write short, relatively neutral statements “from which you could at least interpret the truth“, says Sven Adam, Sethi’s lawyer.

But the account is quite different in the second statements, which the legal advisor for the federal police in Pirna requested from officials and were used for the statement of defense. Suddenly, according to the statements, Sethi is said to have behaved like someone who the policeman, “from [his] many years of experience as an investigating officer in the fight against crime“, would identify as a “pick-pocket“. Reportedly, after recognising the police Sethi had suddenly veered away and changed his “direction of movement“. These statements were first written half a year after the incident.

Shaking heads in the meeting room

The “Sethi Kanwal administrative-case against the Federal Republic of Germany“ is finally coming before the Verwaltungsgericht (administrative court) in Dresden. It is Wednesday, 2 November 2016. At the end of the day almost all parties have left the meeting room shaking their heads.

The Göttingen lawyer Sven Adam, who is a specialist in racial-profiling proceedings, initially poses general questions. „How did you prepare for this trial?“ he asks one of the two police officers. Gradually the defendant admits to having had prior knowledge his colleague’s statements and virtually copying them. The mood in the courtroom deteriorates; reports that were agreed in advance can no longer be neutral and serve as evidence.

The presiding judge is furious when the second officer then also admits to “preparation of the testimony“ – to have been seen in the town of Pirna, near Dresden, together with his colleague. The lawyer, Adam, asks, “and what did you talk about?“ Suddenly the officer, whose head office is located in Bayreuth, Bavaria, is aware of his error: “Erm, only general things,“ he tries to wriggle out of it. Then, the Judge intervenes: “You are not telling me that you are summoned from Bayreuth to Pirna on a specific case, and then discuss something general?“ “I do not remember the subject of the conversation.“ Then he is silent.

Initially, believes Sven Adam, it was not clear to the officer that this statement would make the entire trial absurd. “But collusive testimonies whereby a legally trained officer just points out what is essential and what is not, are no evidence,“ says the judge, and concludes the taking of evidence.

Proof of identity demanded unlawfully

“In this case we have proven that the Federal Police collude to prepare their statements,“ says Sven Adam. “And even though I cannot say for certain that it takes place systematically, it looks that way from this trial.“

Kanwal Sethi also discussed the outcome: “For me personally, the whole thing is over, because we won the trial. But the information that came to light in the trial stunned all those who heard it. The repeated racist checks are terrible, but preparing statements together as a matter of course goes against every form of constitutional conduct and is a scandal. If the Federal Police and their legal department collude to prepare witness statements and perhaps even devise them in order to discredit a citizen, it would have far-reaching consequences.“

The date is Wednesday 1 February 2017. Almost three months after the end of the trial, Kanwal Sethi and Sven Adam receive the verdict. The demand to see proof of the complainant’s identity in March 2014 at Erfuhrt station was unlawful.

Robert Bendner, spokesman for Dresden Administrative Court, explains: “Of course, this verdict does not mean that the complainant will no longer be subjected to identity checks. Even if he finds himself in exactly the same situation again, the verdict will be of little benefit to him, should there be any doubt. We can only hope that the police officers have learnt something from this.“ The cost of the trial, including Sethi’s legal costs, must be paid by the Federal Republic of Germany.

Further agreements?

Sethi’s and Adam’s presumptions are confirmed in the ruling too. On pages seven and eight it reads as follows: “In view of the fact that the witness [Thomas S.] has travelled from Bayreuth to Pirna for this talk as part of a business trip, it seems illogical that this conversation would have merely been an instruction regarding the procedure of the upcoming negotiations’. Instead, it cannot be excluded that the specific facts have played a role on this occasion as well. […] Furthermore, the concern that arrangements about details have been made is present through the mere fact that this meeting has taken place. It is also not necessary to question the defendant’s legal advisor, who was present during this conversation, about its specific course or content, as such doubts had already arisen based on the details of the witness’ statement in the chamber[…].“

The Pirna Federal Police Directorate refused to make a comment on the incident before and after the judgment was sought, despite several requests. In response to TAZ’s question as to whether it was common practice to summon officers to the Police Directorate to 'compile’ statements their spokesman sent the following message: “The Pirna Federal Police Directorate staff are entirely subject to an obligation of truthfulness, both before their superiors within the scope of their employment and before the responsible court within the scope of oral negotiations.“

A clear 'no’ could seemingly not be agreed on in Pirna, even after joint consultation.

Original in German/auf Deutsch: “Dieser Mann ist kein Taschendieb“

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