How much force can a policeman use?

How much force is a policeman permitted to use against a demonstrator? A 17 year old girl from the Reclaim the City movement, who was pressed up against a rail by a large riot officer is the subject of a Supreme Court judgement on the matter.

On Wednesday the 39 year old policeman made his court appearance. The office of the prosecutor general wants him convicted of professional misconduct for using more force than was reasonable or defensible.

“High standards must be demanded of police officers when it comes to the use of force,” said senior prosecutor, Lars Persson.

The policeman himself claims that the girl was inciting her fellow demonstrators and that he was concerned that he and his unit would lose control of the situation.

“The arrest must be seen in the context of the violence which the officer had seen youths use earlier in the evening. The force was defensible,” said the policeman’s lawyer, Johan Eriksson.

On the 1st May 2003, Reclaim the city organised a demonstration in Stureplan in Stockholm. The demonstration degenerated into a riot. Shop windows and police cars were destroyed and bottles and stones were hurled at police.

The 17 year old girl was on her way to the underground station to go home, when police arrested a suspected ringleader in the vicinity of the girl and her friends. The youths complained to the police about the arrest and were told to leave the area. The girl then gave the policeman ‘the finger’, whereupon he chased after her and pressed her up against a rail. The event was videotaped by another demonstrator and the film forms part of the evidence.

Initially, the officer was charged with assault, harassment and misconduct. He was fully acquitted in the original trials. Now he is only accused for pressing the girl up against the rail.

The girl has testified that she suffered bruising and was psychologically traumatised after the event and has lost respect and faith in the police. The officer is a member of the special delta commando force, trained to handle violent demonstrations. He denies he acted out of anger having been given the ‘finger’.

“I accept that it doesn’t look good. I’m a big policeman with 20 kilos of protective gear and she’s a small girl. But I was afraid her friends would come and try to free her,” said the policeman.

The officer told TT that it felt terrible to be a symbol for police violence and that he’d worked for ten years with vulnerable youngsters in Rinkeby.

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