Case Studies

The Netherlands: Death in pre-trial detention


In one shocking case in the Netherlands, a victim died from the treatment he received from the guards while in pre-trial detention.

The victim, whose family wish for him to remain anonymous, was initially arrested for disturbing behaviour, and he was taken to detention. The victim was having a psychotic episode, during which he started a fire in his cell. He was initially put in another cell but was then able to start a second fire. Rather than respond with medical help, the prison sent in guards with full riot gear to transfer him to solitary confinement.

The victim did not want to cooperate, and in the scuffle that followed, he was twice kicked in the head by one of the prison guards. As the guards were in riot gear, he was wearing heavy boots. The detainee died as a result of his injuries.

In the investigation that followed, one of the guards faced charges. However, despite recorded conversations between the guards in which they mentioned violent acts, there wasn’t enough evidence to seal a conviction. The medical records could not determine the cause of death conclusively.

Despite the actions of the guards, the report stated that the forensic report did not identify the causes of death and injuries of the deceased, and that given that the floor of the cell was wet, the deceased may have injured himself by falling. It stated that other witness statements did not identify a specific perpetrator. It decided not to rely on a statement by an uncorroborated witness and therefore acquitted the defendant of all charges.

This case illustrates the extreme difficulty of documenting violence in detention and securing evidence. No mention was made in the decision to other potential evidence, such as safety cameras. It also goes to show the power imbalance that exists between detainees and prison guards.