Three officers before judge: how far can police go in a pursuit?

Three officers before judge: how far can police go in a pursuit?
Three officers before judge: how far can police go in a pursuit?

Ouasim Toumi (23) and Sabrina El Bakkali (20) were killed on May 9, 2017, when Toumi crashed into a police car at high speed on Avenue Louise in Brussels at 9:30 PM. Toumi died on the spot. El Bakkali was taken to hospital, but died during the night.

Ten minutes earlier, just over a kilometer away, a police patrol on the Elsensesteenweg had noticed a motorcycle that was driving too fast and not using its indicators when turning. The passenger was wearing gold sneakers, not appropriate footwear for a Suzuki GSX-R600 driver.

The officers in their police car, with flashing lights on, followed the motorcycle to Place Flagey, but it did not stop. The motorcyclist started to drive faster in the direction of Avenue Louise. The police gave chase at high speed. The police car was flashed just before the accident. He was traveling at 143 kilometers per hour at the time.

What followed is still subject to debate today. Several other police cars joined the chase. Based on the license plate, the officers knew who owned the motorcycle. An officer from the dog brigade also decided on his own initiative to assist his colleagues in the pursuit. He drove to the exit of the Bailiff tunnel on Avenue Louise and placed his police car in the right lane. The man later could not remember whether he was standing still or whether he was driving at walking pace.

According to his statement, the intention was to stop other cars on the track so that they would not become involved in the chase. He also said he did not know whether the motorcyclist and his pursuers had already passed by or not. In any case: while exiting the tunnel, Toumi crashed into the police car. With fatal consequences.

Police car across the road

Immediately after the accident, questions arose about how the police, and especially the dog squad officer, had responded. Witnesses told their stories on social media, went to the police or contacted the families of Toumi and El Bakkali to give their version of the facts. According to them, the police car of the dog brigade not only drove into the right lane, but parked perpendicular to that lane.

© Kristof Vadino

Given the speed of the motorcycle and the limited visibility when exiting the tunnel, Toumi would not have been able to avoid the car. The position of the police car after the accident could support those statements. After the impact, the police car was almost completely perpendicular to the roadway. The police say that this is the result of the collision with the motorcycle.

During the trial it will undoubtedly also be about how responsible it is to initiate a high-speed chase. According to Joke Callewaert, the lawyer for the El Bakkali family, Ouasim’s traffic violations do not outweigh the risk of the chase. The police already knew Toumi’s identity at the time of the chase. She could have summoned him for questioning or issued a fine. According to Callewaert, the police should also have taken into account the fact that there was a passenger on the back of the motorcycle.

The officers involved maintain their innocence to this day. Their lawyers declined to comment.

Adil and Mehdi

Sabrina and Ouasim’s case is not alone. In the coming months, two other deadly police chases will come before the council chamber in Brussels. In the files surrounding the deaths of Mehdi Bouda (17) and Adil Charrot (19), there is discussion about whether the police acted correctly. The debate about how the police should approach a pursuit, and how far they can go, is far from resolved.

Today, there are no specific rules regarding pursuits for the local police. According to Committee P, the few additional training courses that exist on this subject are difficult to access for ordinary police officers. In any case, Committee P strongly advises against setting up a blockade during a pursuit.

The long road to trial was grueling for the Toumi and El Bakkali families. It took them more than six years to get the case before the police court. The Brussels public prosecutor’s office saw no reason to suspect the officers. According to the public prosecutor’s office, the police had made no mistakes. Ultimately, it was the indictment chamber that referred the case to the police judge in 2022 and officially charged the officers with unintentional manslaughter following a traffic accident.

The police are also not happy with the long duration of the investigation and the procedure. Chief of Police Michel Goovaerts of the Capital-Ixelles zone has already pointed out the consequences for his officers who, at best, have to live with a ‘sword of Damocles’ over their heads, and at worst cannot be suspended as long as no final decision is made. has fallen.

The article is in Dutch

Tags: officers judge police pursuit


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