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Three police officers cleared over fatal shooting of man with Down Syndrome

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Three police officers cleared over fatal shooting of man with Down Syndrome
Tributes paid to Eric Torell. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT
08:48 CEST+02:00
Three police officers have been cleared of all charges in connection with the fatal shooting of severely disabled man Eric Torell, 20, a court case that has made international headlines.

Early in the morning of August 2nd, 2018, Torell left the home he shared with his father in central Stockholm, carrying a plastic toy gun. Torell had Down Syndrome and autism, and according to his parents had the same mental level as a typical three-year-old.

Two of the police officers, who were responding to a call-out about an armed man which was believed to be linked to previous incidents in the area, encountered Torell in a residential courtyard. When the 20-year-old came towards them, pointing the toy gun, they opened fire.

Torell was the seventh person to be fatally shot by police in 2018.

One of the police officers, who hit Torell in the back, was on Thursday cleared of breaching official duty, and the other, who was accused of having wounded him fatally, was cleared of involuntary manslaughter.

The prosecutor had argued that the 23 first shots fired were within the legal framework of what is usually referred to as imagined self-defence. But the last two shots came after Torell had turned his back on the officers, which meant that the right to self-defence at that point ceased to apply, argued the prosecutor.

However, Stockholm District Court found that it had not been proven which of the gunshots were strictly speaking legal and which were not.

"The prosecutor has based his argument on the fact that 23 shots were OK, but not these last two. But neither the medical not the forensic evidence shows that these were in fact the last two shots. They may as well have been shots number 15 or 16," court president Erik Lindberg told the TT newswire.

The court said that the investigation had failed to prove Torell's exact movements or position when he was hit. It also said it was not reasonable to expect that the police officers should have stopped and evaluated the impact of the shots during an incident that may have happened in less than three seconds. The violence used was also not considered to have been "obviously indefensible".

"The police have not felt that they shot the man in the back, and experts have said that there could be time delays. You may feel that you are facing someone, but there is a time delay from the point where you see that to the point where you fire your gun, and the man may then have turned around," said Lindberg.

The third police officer, who led the task force but was not at the scene, was cleared of breach of duty, with the court saying it had not been proven that he acted in violation of any established rules.

Torell's mother, Katarina Söderberg, said the trial and verdict had to some extent given her closure.

"I have had some insight into how the police officers were thinking and what they were seeing. And their fear and all of those things, I can understand and respect that considering the information they had," she told TT, but added that she hoped that her son's death would help guide future police work.

"You must not forget that they still fired 25 shots. I understand that they are innocent in a legal sense, and I fully trust Swedish courts, but I find it hard to believe it is considered a successful police operation."

 
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