A police officer who shot a naked, unarmed man dead in Hsinchu County two years ago pleaded in his defense yesterday that he did not notice the first four shots he fired at close range had penetrated the victim, because the man was “dark skinned”.
The defendant’s statement in court was greeted by shudders, as the case already tainted by allegations of racism, unfolded in yesterday’s trial.
On August 31, 2017, the young police officer, Chen Chung-wen (陳崇文), then 22 years old, was called to an incident after a suspect smashed the windshield of a small truck, in a suspected attempt to steal a vehicle.
Officer Chen was at the scene with three volunteer “police auxiliary” members, when the naked suspect, a 27-year-old Vietnamese runaway migrant worker, Nguyen Quoc Phi, attacked them.
Officer Chen responded to the attack with his police baton, but according to police reports, Nguyen landed a kick to an auxiliary officer’s nose, causing an injury, and damaged Chen’s baton.
Officer Chen then resorted to using pepper spray, but the small-framed, sprightly Nguyen, suspected to be under the effect of alcohol and drugs, jumped into an irrigation ditch to rinse his eyes.
“He’s getting up again: I’m going to shoot”
No ifs, buts, maybes. “他再起來，我就要開槍!”
The contextual nature of the Chinese language forces us to posit a rookie young cop, alone but for a few middle-aged community-watch volunteers, one with a bloody nose, standing beside a roadside ditch with a small, wiry, dark-skinned, naked figure of a man, having shown immunity to a force of four, including a police officer armed with a baton; then withstanding a pepper-spray attack to the face by jumping into a muddy ditch.
As Nguyen started to scramble out of the ditch, Chen drew his police pistol, but did not fire until Nguyen crawled to the driver’s side door of the Chen’s police patrol car, opened the door, and tried to get in.
From a distance of just three meters away, Officer Chen discharged his weapon four times, hitting Nguyen four times. Nguyen fell, then immediately attempted to get up and into the vehicle again. Chen then fired another 5 shots in quick succession.
Every bullet hit the mark.
Judges, lawyers, and court attendees today were witness to Officer Chen’s body-cam video; a piece of evidence that has been kept from public view under Article 245 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Reports from the courthouse described the video footage as shocking.
After viewing the video evidence, the judge pointed out that Nguyen was unarmed, and not attacking anyone at the time.
“Why did you shoot him?” the judge asked.
Chen replied that Nguyen had already displayed aggressive behavior, and that he was worried about the consequences of Nguyen getting control of the police car.
The judge then asked: “Seeing that the man was bleeding around the waist and hips after the firing four shots, why did you continue to fire the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth shots?”
“Because Mr Nguyen’s had dark skin, I didn’t see clearly that he was bleeding,” Chen replied. “I didn’t know how many shots I fired.”
The judge inquired, “If you were concerned about the suspect gaining control of the vehicle, why did you not shoot at the tires first?”
“It all happened so fast, I don’t remember,” Chen replied.
Chen pleaded not guilty, and his defense lawyer pointed out that the defendant was young and inexperienced, but a serious and conscientious police officer. The defense asked the judge for an acquittal.
However, the prosecutor expressed his hope that Chen be punished according to law.
As for the lawyer representing the family of Mr Nguyen, he pointed out that Chen had made a financial settlement with the Nguyen family (NT$2.6 million), and the family agreed to a light or suspended sentence for Mr Chen, but still demanded a verdict of guilty.
The court will pronounce a sentence on July 22.
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