Laye Condé from Sierra Leone fell into a coma and died after having litres of water and the vomiting-inducing drug forced into his stomach via a tube while being held in police custody in Bremen in 2004.
Doctors disagreed on why the 35-year-old Condé died, with four saying he died due to water he inhaled during the forced procedure, but another four saying he had been killed by a heart defect which the doctor had no way of knowing about.
The state prosecutor had called for the doctor, named only as Igor V., to be convicted of causing death by negligence and sentenced to nine months on probation. His defence had called for the acquittal that he received on Tuesday.
Elke Maleika, the Bremen lawyer representing Condè’s family, told The Local that the first court hearing of the shocking case in 2008 had concluded that his death was caused by negligence, but the doctor was still acquitted. The court said that although the doctor had made mistakes, he did not have the experience or training necessary to recognise the danger his ‘patient’s was in.
This decision was overruled by the Federal Court, which also said the doctor’s treatment of Condé was unreasonable and inhumane.
Yet even the judges there said the doctor should not be harshly sentenced, accepting the case that he was incapable of dealing with the situation. The doctor, originally from Kazakhstan, worked for the police on a freelance basis and had hardly any practical experience, the judges said.
Maleika explained that the entire case was heard again this year, and the judge concluded that because expert witnesses could not agree on the cause of Condè’s death, the doctor should be acquitted.
“This is a different situation because the court said today that it could not be certain of cause of death,” she said. “For me that is a more acceptable result.”
But she acknowledged that this might not be the case for Condè’s family. “I think for the family it is difficult to understand that another court hasn’t been able to decide what happened to Laye. For them I think the reasoning behind the acquittal will make no difference.”
When asked whether other people involved in the use of the technique of force-feeding emetics and water to suspects or the employment of an incapable doctor could have faced charges, Maleika said the state prosecutor had looked at a number of people.
“But because the initial charge was of causing death by negligence, in time the statute of limitations had been reached and nothing could be done – it was already too late,” she said. The plaintiffs have a week to decide whether to appeal Tuesday’s verdict.
One of the police officers who had arrested Condé told the court this time around that he had swallowed something shortly before his apprehension. He and his colleague said they suspected this might have been packets of drugs and took him to the station.
When Condé refused at the police station to voluntarily take the emetic drug to make him throw up, he was tied to a chair with hands and feet.
The doctor pushed a tube through Condé’s nose in order to force water and the emetic directly into his stomach. This made him throw up a small ball of cocaine, which as Die Welt reported, was sufficient evidence on which to charge him.
But the doctor repeated the procedure, according to the taz newspaper, even after he had personally called an emergency doctor because Condé was no longer responsive.
“At one point the black African was pretty quiet. He did not move any more,” the officer told the court.
White foam was coming from his nose and mouth. He died 11 days later in hospital.
Afterwards it turned out he had swallowed five small packets containing cocaine, with an estimated total street value of €100.
The doctor’s lawyer argued that the forced administration of emetics had been accepted and even championed by the Bremen authorities for years.
The practice was stopped in Germany after a 2006 ruling from the European Court of Human Rights on another case of forcing emetics into the stomach of another suspected drug dealer. It said such a procedure violated the European Convention on Human Rights which prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment.