It is statement against statement, as so often in such cases. The police in Hesse are confronted with allegations of unlawful violence against a citizen, they see things differently. Video recordings of the operation against the man that were previously considered deleted have now reappeared and show what really happened. Or not? The case is a prime example of how video technology can help get closer to the truth – but also where its limitations lie.
The incident took place on the evening of September 8, 2020, a Tuesday, in Idstein, Hesse, around 25 kilometers north-west of Frankfurt am Main, and made headlines, especially in the regional press. The then 38-year-old Liam Conway entered the police station in the center of the city of 25,000. His father was involved in a traffic accident, Conway wanted to pick up the 74-year-old.
There is said to have been an argument in the police station over a glass of water for the father. Conway was "verbally highly aggressive" and tried to hit an officer, the police reported in a press release a day later. The 38-year-old restaurateur and kickboxing trainer was then taken out of the police station. "In front of the door, he tried to grab a police officer's pepper spray. He had to be put on the ground and tied up. Only after the man was tied did he calm down." The police also wrote that and it is similar in the files on the incident, says Conway's lawyer Michael Heuchemer in an interview with the star. His client is also said to have kicked the police officers, pushed them and held on to the door of the police station, the officers said in their statements.
Conway "of course did not resist", contradicted Heuchemer shortly afterwards. Rather, the officers suddenly rushed at Conway, knocked him to the ground and hit him. Photos from September 2020 show Conway with bloody wounds to his head. According to his own statement, he still had headaches and difficulty finding words days after the incident - and a little later a complaint was made in the mailbox for resisting law enforcement officers.
"As an affected person, you are of course served twice by the injuries and the investigation," says lawyer Heuchemer to the star. That sounds more harmless than it is meant to be. After all, who believes a single person affected when several police officers claim the opposite? In the worst case, Conway would have to go to jail if a court were to follow the statements of the officers involved.
Just as it turns out now: it is apparently not quite as clear as both sides describe the case. It is only now that video images from the surveillance cameras in front of the Idstein police station have appeared objectively for the first time - and yet it cannot be fully clarified by them alone. The "Frankfurter Rundschau" (FR) initially reported on the recordings, and they are also available to the star.
They show Conway already opening the station's door when one of the officers suddenly grabbed him from the side and tried to choke him to the ground. The man resisted the attempts. What was said cannot be heard, the recordings are silent. A confusing scuffle developed, in the course of which initially three and later four officers only managed with difficulty to overpower the 38-year-old. With combined forces, the police officers fixed him on the ground and put his hands behind his back. At times, an officer knelt on the body of the overpowered man. Two shots of the policeman's hand and fist against Conway's head also show the four-minute recordings from two perspectives. His face scraped the ground during the arrest. What happened in the building and in the guard's vestibule before those involved stepped outside the door cannot be seen on the videos. The recordings do not show that the suspect tried to grab an officer's pepper spray in front of the door.
The police are no longer talking about this, more than two years later. In return, she confirms the use of force. When Conways was led out of the station, there were "acts of resistance and the use of direct coercion through physical violence by the police officers deployed," explained the police headquarters in West Hesse when asked by stern about the recordings. "Such situations never look nice, even if they are necessary, lawful and unavoidable in each case," says President Felix Paschek.
One thing is clear: police officers may use violence in certain situations and within the framework of proportionality, including striking. The star presented the recordings to an expert who was a police officer himself for years. He doesn't know the reason for the officials' intervention, he says ahead of time. He does not see an excess of violence on the videos. He also says: "Enforcement never looks nice. Such a situation is not without danger for the police officers, for example, the person opposite could bite. You can see that it is difficult even for the three police officers to tame the man. This resistance is necessary you break." So-called shock blows are also permissible. But: "Two blows to the head - I would have a question mark there," says the expert. "The person concerned has a laceration, so I'm wondering whether that was necessary. In view of the massive resistance, however, I wouldn't condemn the operation across the board." Liam Conway said in FR in 2020 that he only made "passive counter-movements" for self-protection.
As controversial as the assessment of the events is, lawyer Heuchemer also sees the handling of the police with the most important evidence in the case, the two video recordings, as questionable. Passers-by also filmed parts of the arrest - among other things, you can see and hear Conway lying on the ground calling for help on the recordings, but not the entire process. This is different now and thanks to the persistence of Conway's lawyer and in particular the work of the Wiesbaden public prosecutor's office. On her initiative, the recordings could be painstakingly reconstructed.
"Positively surprising" is what Michael Heuchemer calls the turnaround in the case. Because although the lawyer had urged the police to secure the recordings after the incident, this did not happen. It said: The videos were overwritten after 21 days as technically planned. They did not go to the public prosecutor's office as requested. An officer said he put the backup on hold for several weeks because of other duties - and then the recordings were deleted. Several colleagues are also said to have viewed the videos beforehand. Apparently nobody came up with the idea of securing them. The most important piece of evidence in the case seemed lost.
"Very annoying" was the omission, said the then President of the West Hesse Police Headquarters, Stefan Müller, afterwards. Lawyer Heuchemer points out that the statements and notes of the officials seem unusually coordinated or that they do not want to hear or see anything at the crucial moments. According to Conways' legal adviser, "proven misrepresentations" were made. The statements were "made to fit". He suspects that after the files were overwritten, people at the Idsteiner Wache thought the whole matter was "off the table forever".
She is not. Due to the restoration of the video, the evening of September 8, 2020 will keep the judiciary in Hesse busy for a while. Now she no longer has to rely exclusively on the statements of those involved and possible witnesses. However: The investigations against the officer and two of her colleagues who can be seen in the video were discontinued after viewing the recordings. This is what the Wiesbaden public prosecutor's office tells the star. The prosecution sees the allegations against the three cleared. The fourth is still being investigated on suspicion of assault in office after Conway was hit in the head. The case against the officer continues.
Conway and his attorney have appealed the dismissal of the other three cases. There is still a whole series of allegations against her: Among other things, assault in office, false suspicion, evasion of criminal prosecution in office, there are also civil claims by victim Conway against a police officer. "We will and must enforce this," says Heuchemer with conviction.
The officials involved are still on duty. After the conclusion of the criminal proceedings, the police headquarters in West Hesse will examine the disciplinary consequences against the accused police officer. "We take every allegation of misconduct by police officers very seriously," says police chief Paschek. "But the presumption of innocence also applies to police officers."
Lawyer Heuchemer reports that the proceedings against Liam Conway for the alleged resistance have been postponed until the investigations against the officer have been completed. "According to the current state of the files, we expect the investigations against our client and the indictment against the police officers to be stopped in a timely manner."
The resurfaced video recordings show beyond a doubt what happened on September 8, 2020 in front of the police station in Idstein. But the assessment of the incident has to be done by people, despite all the technology. At the end of the day, it may again be: statement against statement.
Sources: "Frankfurter Rundschau" (1), "Frankfurter Rundschau" (2), West Hesse Police Headquarters, Wiesbaden Public Prosecutor's Office, Criminal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure