Austrian policeman faces trial on charge of assaulting black American he mistook for dealer

By Veronika Oleksyn, AP
Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Austrian cop faces trial in attack on American

VIENNA — Austrian prosecutors said Tuesday that they have charged an undercover policemen with assaulting a black American teacher after mistaking him for a drug dealer at a Vienna subway station.

Mike Brennan, a teacher and former football player from Jacksonville, Florida who works in the Austrian capital, says two undercover police officers “came out of nowhere” on Feb. 11, 2009 and attacked him without identifying themselves, before leaving him lying on the platform.

The case sparked outrage among Vienna’s expatriate community and other foreigners who say they are unfairly treated by authorities due to their skin color. Amnesty International, a human rights watchdog, has said that Austrian authorities do not effectively investigate and punish racially motivated police misconduct and expressed concern that race was too often a factor in arrests and investigations. In a report last year, it has also said there was considerable evidence Austrian police have engaged in widespread ethnic profiling over the past decade, particularly in efforts to counter drug-related crime.

The Vienna Police Department said the officers mistook Brennan for a drug dealer of “almost identical” physical description and acknowledged that they used “physical force” and injured him. They said they made several attempts to contact Brennan to personally express their regret. Brennan, whose back, head, neck, hand and wrist were hurt, says he never got a satisfactory apology.

Korneuburg prosecution spokesman Friedrich Koehl said the policeman in question, who was not identified, will have to defend himself in court against an assault charge and could face up to six months in prison. Koehl said only one of the officers was being pursued because the other “did not do anything liable to prosecution.” He did not provide details.

An internal police investigation found that the officers properly identified themselves and got physical when Brennan showed resistance. That led to Brennan’s injuries, police said.

Brennan, who spent months recovering, says he is happy that action is finally being taken and hopes his case will help prevent similar incidents in the future.

But he questioned why it took so long to start proceedings and why just one of his two assailants is being prosecuted.

“I think that it is important that something is happening in my case and at least one of the officers will be charged even though both are responsible,” Brennan wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “This is a start.”

“This case is not only about me,” Brennan said.

Heinz Patzelt, head of Austria’s chapter of Amnesty International, said he was pleased the case had not been dismissed.

But “we will be watching very closely to see what happens,” Patzelt warned.

It was not immediately clear when the trial would begin.

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