US teen in Italian police murder ‘didn’t know friend was armed’

The father of a US teen arrested in Rome over the killing of an Italian police officer said on Thursday his son didn't know his friend was carrying a knife.

US teen in Italian police murder 'didn't know friend was armed'

Gabriel Natale Hjorth, 18, has been charged with aggravated homicide along with his friend Finnegan Elder, 19, following the death of officer Mario Cerciello Rega, who was stabbed to death in a botched drug bust last week.

Elder has confessed to stabbing Cerciello, 35, with a US Marine partially-serrated, close-quarters combat knife, according to Italian police.He reportedly said he mitook the plain-clothes officer for a dangerous drug dealer and used the weapon in self-defence.

READ ALSO: 'Terrible affair which cannot go unpunished': Italy mourns murdered police officer

“Gabriel didn't know his friend was armed. He only found out what happened, that the officer had died, after his arrest,” Fabrizio Natale told the Corriere della Sera daily after visiting his son in Rome's Regina Coeli jail.

Elder was carrying the knife on his person, and police said it was “impossible” Natale did not know he had it.

“The meeting was emotional but very hard for both of us. He's in a bad state,” Fabrizio Natale said after seeing his son.

“Always with us”: mourners carry a photo of murdered officer Rega at his funeral. Photo: Eliano Imperato/AFP

The 18-year-old is alleged to have held Cerciello's partner Andrea Varriale down during the attack in Rome's upmarket Prati neighbourhood, and possibly hidden the murder weapon afterwards.

“I share the pain of the officer's family. But I am convinced my son is innocent,” Natale said.

The teen spent the hour-long meeting with his father in tears, the Corriere said.

Natale brought his son a copy of Ernest Hemingway's novel “The Old Man and the Sea” and an Italian-English dictionary, but was forbidden to give him the latter as it was a hardback with corners considered too sharp to be safe, the daily reported.

He was allowed to hand over bread and cold cuts, but not toothpaste, deodorant, an electric toothbrush, or a large towel considered a hanging risk, it added.

The two Californian teens had been drinking when the attack took place, and Elder was also on prescription drugs, police said.

Cerciello and Varriale had been tasked with intercepting the pair after an intermediary on a drug deal reported them to the police for stealing his bag after they were sold aspirin in the place of cocaine.

The teens have accused each other of being the one to have hidden the hastily-cleaned knife, which has an 18-centimetre (seven-inch) blade, in the false ceiling of their hotel room.

Police returned to the room on Wednesday to dust the ceiling for prints.

READ ALSO: US suspect blindfolded during questioning over Italian policeman's murder

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‘Treated like a dog’: Transgender woman sues over Italian police brutality

A Brazilian transgender woman brutally beaten by Italian police in an attack captured in a video that went viral is suing for torture and bodily harm, her lawyer said on Tuesday.

'Treated like a dog': Transgender woman sues over Italian police brutality

The mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, meanwhile confirmed the officers would face disciplinary action over the incident last Thursday in the northern city, while prosecutors have opened an investigation.

In the graphic footage, three police officers can be seen circling the woman, hitting her on the head and ribs with their batons and spraying her in the face with pepper spray as she sits on the street, her hands in the air.

The woman was then forced to the ground, handcuffed and taken away.

Lawyer Debora Piazza told AFP her client, known only by the pseudonym Bruna, was then left injured in a locked patrol car for 20 minutes.

“In that time she had trouble breathing and thought she was dying,” she said.

The woman is suing for torture and bodily harm aggravated by abuse of public office and discrimination, Piazza said.

A Milan prosecutor confirmed to AFP that she was investigating the allegations of police brutality against “a 41-year-old Brazilian transgender woman”.

Piazza said her client was “not at all well, especially from a psychological point of view” after the attack.

Sala said Tuesday the officers would be disciplined while warning against “crucifying the police”.

Daniele Vincini, head of the SULPL police union, told Corriere della Sera newspaper the officers had not beaten the woman to hurt her.

The beatings were “to subdue her”, he said, claiming that she had been spitting blood in their faces and “they did what they could”.

Such overt police brutality is rare in Italy and the incident made headlines in the media for several days.

“I felt like I was treated like a dog,” Bruna herself told the Corriere della Sera daily after the attack.

“I put my hands up, I asked them not to hit me. I was so scared,” she said.