Austrian judge sends case of black American assaulted by policeman to a higher court

By Veronika Oleksyn, AP
Thursday, June 24, 2010

Vienna black American assault case to higher court

VIENNA — An Austrian judge sent the case of a black American mistaken for a drug dealer and tackled by an undercover policeman to a higher court Thursday, saying the matter was too serious to be handled by a county court.

After a day of testimony from both sides and an expert witness, Judge Margaretha Richter decided she had no jurisdiction to rule in the case. It now goes to a provincial court.

The undercover policeman, who could not be identified under Austrian law, pleaded not guilty Thursday to assault but acknowledged that he used force to floor American teacher Mike Brennan in a Vienna subway station on Feb. 11, 2009.

Brennan — a teacher at the Vienna International School and a former football player from Jacksonville, Florida — was injured, and the incident sparked outrage among Vienna’s expatriate community.

The Vienna police department has said the officer in question — and another who was not charged — mistook Brennan for a drug dealer of “almost identical” appearance and acknowledged that they used physical force and injured him. They said they made several attempts to contact Brennan to personally express their regret.

But Brennan, whose back, head, neck, hand and wrist were hurt, says he never got a satisfactory apology.

“For me, at the time, he was the offender and that’s why I used physical strength,” after Brennan tensed up and appeared as if he would run away, the policeman told the judge.

Brennan disputed the policeman’s claims that he had identified himself and told Brennan not to move. Instead, he said the policeman tackled and punched him immediately after he got off the subway.

“It’s a psychological thing — if you hear ‘Police!’ you freeze,” Brennan said Thursday. “I was hit immediately, I didn’t see him coming. … It was like a tackle in football.”

The policeman, who claimed his knee was also injured in the incident, demonstrated how he brought Brennan down onto the subway station floor but said he did not punch him.

“I certainly didn’t want to hurt him. I just wanted to bring him to the ground,” said the policeman, adding he also repeatedly tried to apologize.

“The mistake happened — I confused him with someone else,” he said, adding he only had seconds to decide how to proceed in a stressful situation.

The judge said, based on Thursday’s testimony, the policeman had not properly stopped Brennan.

“I say this very clearly — I cannot represent this because it would really be a blank check for stopping people in this way,” Richter said.

Brennan welcomed the judge’s decision and remarks, saying they sent a message.

“Even if it takes longer, hopefully in the end everything will work out like it should,” he said.

It was not immediately clear when the higher court would take up the case.

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