Day 5: “It was the most appropriate and benign approach”

Summary

Date:14 December 2021
Location:Athens Court of First Instance, Degleri street, courtroom #2
Access:Access to the courthouse was limited due to measures against the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. No audience was allowed in the courtroom with the exception of the victim’s family, six journalists, one representative of Amnesty International, one representative of the “Orlando LGBTQI+” group and two observers. Photojournalists are not allowed to cover the trial.
Defendants in attendance:Athanasios Chortarias, owner of a real estate agency
Vassilios Rousakos, police officer, Zeta Group
Leonidas Alexandris, police officer, Zeta Group
David Seferis, police officer, DIAS Group
Ioannis Tsombanis, police officer, DIAS Group
Process:Examination of witnesses from the list included in the referral order:
– Petros Lagoudakos, pollice officer (DIAS)
– Petros Athanasatos, police officer (Zeta)
– Athanasios Kampras, police officer (Ζ)
– Konstantinos Michailidis, police officer
– Kosmas Kotridis, pollice officer (DIAS)
– Kyriakos Falkas, police officer (DIAS)
– Ioannis Aspiotis, police officer (DIAS)
Next hearings:December 2021: 17 and 21
January 2022: 18, 25 and 28
Composition of the court:Judges:
Stavgianoudaki Eleana (chair)
Efthimiou Maria
Moraiti Eleni.
Members of the jury:
Papatheodoropoulos
Tsimpouraki
Georgaki
Fili
Prosecutor: Sotirios Bougioukos

Report

Day 5 – 14/12/2021 – Athens Court of First Instance, courtroom #2

The defendants in attendance were Athanasios Chortarias, owner of a real estate agency, and the 4 policemen, namely Vassilios Rousakos and Leonidas Alexandris of the Zeta Group, and David Seferis and Ioannis Tsombanis of the DIAS Group. Defendant Spyridon Dimopoulos, owner of the jewellery store, was represented by his lawyer.

Restrictions to the public’s access to the courtroom remain in place due to the measures against the spreading of the COVID-19 pandemic. Only relatives of the victim and the defendants were allowed in the courtroom, as well as 6 mass media journalists and observers from Amnesty International, the Orlando LGBTQI+ group and ZackieOh Justice Watch.

Seven policemen testified to the court as witnesses on the 5th session of the trial. Three of them testified as the superior officers of the defendants whereas the other four were eyewitnesses who had participated in Zak’s arrest together with the defendants.

Request from the defense lawyers to expel journalist K. Poulis from the courtroom

During the witnesses’ examination, lawyer Orfeas Filos representing defendant Athanasios Chortarias filed a request to the court to expel The Press Project journalist Konstantinos Poulis from the courtroom, based on the fact that, in a TPP broadcast, Poulis had used an expression that the lawyer deemed insulting. The court dismissed the request in accordance with the prosecutor’s advice, as it had no bearing on the proceedings.

Testimony of police officers who were not present during the facts

The first three police witnesses, namely officers Lagoudakos, Athanasatos and Kampras, had no direct knowledge of the events. Lagoudakos and Athanasatos testified as the superior officers of the police defendants, whereas Kampras had been summoned by the investigating magistrate to identify the policemen who can be seen using violence against Zak Kostopoulos on video material. All three witnesses testified that, from what they saw on the video, the actions of the police defendants were “appropriate”, citing either “the risk posed by the perpetrator” (Lagoudakos, Athanasatos) or “the officers’ high levels of adrenaline” (Kampras).

Police officers who operated together with the defendants

The next four witnesses, namely officers Michailidis, Kotridis, Falkas and Aspiotis, were present during the events as they operated together with the defendants. None of the four was charged despite the lawsuit filed by the Kostopoulos family.

Witness Konstantinos Michailidis stated that he had been standing “a few meters away” while a first aid responder was bandaging Zak’s head. He described how he saw that, while being immobilised, the victim “resisted forcefully because he wouldn’t listen to orders” and how he found out that he later died on the way to the hospital. According to this witness, the policemen didn’t investigate what had happened previously because “people there said that he had cut himself on his own”. He specified that he was referring to defendant Sp. Dimopoulos. Answering a question by defense lawyer E. Varela, he said that “the perpetrator was dangerous” and mentioned a shard of glass, while further stating that “we handcuffed him following the best process.”

Similarly, witness Kosmas Kotridis stated that, after arriving on the scene, the officers were informed about what had happened by defendant Dimopoulos. He described the victim “running around with a shard of glass”, said that he participated in his immobilisation for as to pry it from his hand and that he later found out that “the victim died after several hours”. Answering a question from the prosecution team, he said that he didn’t investigate why Zak Kostopoulos was in this state because “he was assaulting people with a shard of glass”. Furthermore, to questions from defense lawyer Anagnostopoulos, he answered that Zak was “a perpetrator who assaulted two people.” To questions from defense lawyer Filos, he claimed that the victim “was showing signs of life” until he was transferred to the ambulance.

Witness Kyriakos Falkas claimed that, after they arrived on the scene, he stood a little away, on the corner of Gladstonos street and Patision avenue. He described in detail the same scene as his colleagues, only to ultimately admit, when asked by the prosecutor, that he had seen much of it on the video.

Lastly, witness Ioannis Aspiotis testified that he had been the one to summon an ambulance from the national first aid response. He admitted that he had listened to the statements from the other witnesses. He stated that “the best approach is to hold the arrestee prone, so as to give us his hands”, adding that this method is “more benign”. He described Zak Kostopoulos “grabbing the shard and threatening the first aid responder”. Regarding events before his arrival on the scene, he said, like the other witnesses, that “we were told that he had fallen on the glass and cut himself”. He further also mentioned that Zak Kostopoulos “had assaulted the first aid responder and his colleague.”

Lawyers’ comments on the testimonies

The lawyers for the prosecution took note of what they deemed to be contradictions, gaps and inexactitudes in the police witnesses’ testimonies.

Lawyer Paparrousou noted that the term “passive resistance” has no legal standing in the Penal Code, that the policemen “didn’t bother to determine if there had indeed been a robbery”, and that “they acted with utmost violence. She added that she considers all police witnesses to be witnesses for the defense. Lawyer Papapantoleon that the witnesses’ testimonies said much about “hypothetical crimes, but fail to evaluate in any way those crimes that were real.” She further commented that, in her opinion, the policemen’s testimonies should be compared to the findings of the disciplinary committee, for which she will file a request.

The defense team noted that the police witnesses confirmed their claim that Zak Kostopoulos was dangerous and had assaulted people.

In particular, lawyer Anagnostopoulos (representing defendant Sp. Dimopoulos) noted that “the narrative that Zak was helpless has collapsed”, while lawyer Filos (representing defendant Ath. Chortarias) stated that he concluded from the testimonies that Z. Kostopoulos was looked after by the first aid responder for 8 minutes and that there was no resuscitation attempt during this time. Lawyer Patalas (representing defendant Ath. Chortarias) commented that, in his opinion, the testimonies showed that the victim was dangerous.

Defense lawyer E. Varela, representing the defendant policemen, commented that the prosecution lawyers’ claims reveal “an obsession with showing that the officers killed a man”, adding that “I’m having thoughts about civil compensation”. Lawyer Giannelakis, who represents the same defendants, concluded from the day’s testimonies that “Zak Kostopoulos was a menace.”

With the conclusion of the day’s comments, the court adjourned to Friday 17/12/2021.


The full text of our transcript from the courtroom (in Greek) :

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