The court in Switzerland is set to hear a case starting on Monday involving six police officers who are accused of causing the death of Mike Ben Peter, a Nigerian man, in 2018. The incident occurred when Ben Peter was apprehended by the officers and allegedly suffered a heart attack while being pinned face-down for several minutes during the arrest. Due to Swiss privacy laws, the names of the officers have not been disclosed, but they will face charges of “homicide by neglect” in the Lausanne criminal court. Their defense lawyers have stated that they will work towards securing their acquittals.
This case, which shares some similarities with the death of George Floyd in the United States in May 2020, is one of four incidents in Vaud canton since 2016 where Black individuals have died following police interventions. These incidents have led to protests and calls for reform. Unlike the Floyd case, where officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder in 2021 based on video evidence showing him kneeling on Floyd’s neck, there is no footage available of the incident that allegedly resulted in Ben Peter’s death.
Last year, a group of United Nations experts conducted a study expressing serious concerns about systemic racism and excessive use of force by the police in Switzerland, highlighting this particular instance. A subsequent government assessment acknowledged the fundamental nature of the problem and recognized that current efforts were insufficient.
The family’s lawyer, Simon Ntah, expressed pessimism about the outcome of the case, as the lack of independent investigation mechanisms against the police raises concerns. He pointed out that the same public prosecutor who collaborates with the police on other criminal cases is assigned to cases involving the police, like this one. If convicted, the officers could face a maximum jail sentence of three years.
According to the indictment, Ben Peter drew the officers’ attention during a drug patrol in Lausanne when he was found in possession of a bag containing marijuana. He reportedly refused to comply with police orders, leading to the use of pepper spray, knee kicks to the ribs and groin, and ultimately his restraint on the ground. The struggle lasted for three minutes until the officers realized he was unconscious. The indictment suggests that Ben Peter’s death resulted from a heart attack triggered by a combination of factors, including the position in which he was restrained and the stress imposed on him, as well as his weight.