When they appear in court, the five accused police officers hide their faces from the many cameras and spectators behind gray file covers. At the start of the trial surrounding the fatal police shooting of a young refugee in Dortmund a year and a half ago, the hall in front of the Dortmund regional court was filled to capacity.
There is great interest in the criminal investigation of an operation in which, according to the public prosecutor's office, hardly anything was proportionate.
The defendants largely follow the reading of the allegations against them with lowered eyes. In August 2022, Mouhamed Dramé, who came from Senegal, was shot with five shots from a police officer's submachine gun - without the investigator recognizing any danger to the officers or third parties.
Five of six projectiles fired from the MP5 weapon hit the teenager, who died shortly afterwards in hospital. Senior public prosecutor Carsten Dombert is now accusing the shooter of manslaughter. Two colleagues between the ages of 29 and 34 are charged with dangerous bodily harm in office, and the 55-year-old operations manager is charged with inciting it.
Work in a youth welfare facility
According to the prosecution, the police were called to a youth welfare facility because the 16-year-old was apparently handling a knife with suicidal intent. When the emergency services arrived, he was leaning calmly and leaning forward against a wall in an inner courtyard with a household knife pointed at his stomach.
When he did not respond to a short speech, an officer is said to have sprayed him with pepper spray on the orders of her superior and without warning. She aimed the spray bottle at the teenager for six seconds until the irritant gas ran down his face.
When he then stood up and moved towards the officers - the knife still in his hand - he was initially shot at with Taser shocks before shots were fired from the submachine gun less than a second later.
Dramé “was never asked to put down the knife,” said senior public prosecutor Dombert. The use of pepper spray, Tasers and submachine guns was without justifiable reason, he emphasized. The five shots hit the teenager in the leg, stomach, shoulder, face and forearm.
Of the defendants' defense lawyers, only the shooter's lawyer, Christoph Krekeler, spoke in a short statement on this first day of the trial. His client and his family are “very burdened” by the proceedings. Dramé lost his life because of him - the shooter. When Dramé stood up and moved towards the police officer with a knife, his client wasn't the only one who found this threatening, said Krekeler, referring to his colleagues' almost simultaneous use of the Taser. "In this situation, my client didn't care about Mouhamed Dramé's skin color at all," he emphasizes.
The death of the underage refugee from Senegal sparked nationwide outrage and debates about the proportionality of police resources. Racist motives were also discussed.
Protest against police violence
A small group of demonstrators protested against police violence in the drizzle in front of the regional court at the start of the trial. They hold up cardboard boxes with Mouhamed's likeness. It's about clarifying the case and getting justice, says William Dountio from the "Solidarity Circle Justice4Mouhamed", who is in close contact with the family. "They want answers to the question of why they had to lose Mouhamed in such a traumatic way. The trial now is a first step towards getting these answers," says Dountio.
The family is also represented in court by criminal lawyer and criminologist Thomas Feltes. He also hopes that the process will send a signal: politicians and the police should rethink their strategy for dealing with people in exceptional situations, he said on the sidelines of the process. He is aware that the police are confronted with thousands of such operations and usually solve them well. "But there are always escalating situations in which wrong decisions are made." From his point of view, this was also the case in Dortmund: "Mouhamed could not escape. For me there is no reason to turn this stable situation into an unstable one by using pepper spray," said Feltes. Pepper spray increases aggression instead of reducing it.
So far, ten more days of negotiations have been scheduled until April. The trial will continue on January 10, 2024.