Austrian policeman pleads not guilty to assault of black American but admits using force

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Austrian officer denies assaulting American

VIENNA — An undercover policeman pleaded not guilty Thursday to assaulting a black American after mistaking him for a drug dealer at a Vienna subway station.

But the 36-year-old policeman, who cannot be named under Austrian law, acknowledged in court that he used force to floor 35-year-old Mike Brennan on Feb. 11, 2009.

Brennan — a teacher at the private 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” 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. 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 ducked, tensed up and appeared as if he would run away, the policeman told judge Margaretha Richter.

Brennan, in his testimony, disputed the policeman’s claims that he had identified himself and told him 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. “I was hit immediately, I didn’t see him coming. … It was like a tackle in football.”

The policeman, who claimed his knee was injured in the incident, said he held onto Brennan until he was on the floor and disputed that he had punched him.

“I certainly didn’t want to hurt him. I just wanted to bring him to the ground and that’s what I did,” said the policeman, adding he also repeatedly tried to apologize for the mixup.

The timing of a verdict is unclear. If convicted, the policeman could face up to six months in prison.

will not be displayed