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Poland: Driver awaits court ruling in police pepper spray human rights row

A motorist will find out tomorrow if his complaint against Poland, alleging excessive police, is supported by human rights judges.

The European court’s judgement in the case Józef Woś v. Poland (no. 6058/10) is expected on 28 June.

The applicant, Józef Kazimierz Woś, is a Polish national who was born in 1966 and lives in Węglówka (Poland). The case concerns an allegation of excessive use of force by the police.

On 26 January 2009, Woś and his wife were driving from their home to another village when they were stopped by police officers who had noted that the car was missing a rear light and the registration plate was not lit.

According to Woś, the police conducted a further two hour inspection of the car with a view to fining his wife as driver of the car. Woś, who was anxious and upset by that time and considered that the police wanted to bribe him and his wife, referred to the police as beggars.

After making that comment, he claims that he was apprehended by force, the police using a whole can of pepper spray against him. He was eventually taken into police custody and was released the following day.

After his release he was examined at a hospital, where he was diagnosed with bruising to his right hand and a chemical burn to his right eye.

On 28 January 2009, Woś lodged a complaint with both the District Court and the prosecuting authorities concerning his arrest, reporting the police officers for abuse of power. After having questioned all those who had participated in the incident, the court established that the police had responded to Woś’ insult by warning him that he would be arrested for insulting police officers.

As claimed by the police and accepted by the court, Woś had then pushed a police officer and attempted to run away, resisting arrest until one officer had pushed him forcefully to the ground and the other applied pepper spray. The court therefore dismissed Woś’ complaint, finding that at the time of his arrest there were grounds to suspect him of having committed an offence.

In response to the report of alleged abuse of power, the District Prosecutor opened and later discontinued an investigation in April 2009, on the ground that the police had had the right to use force given that Woś had not obeyed their order and had tried to run away.

The decision to discontinue the investigation was ultimately upheld on appeal by the district court in August 2009.

In subsequent proceedings, Woś was charged with offending police officers on duty and kicking a police officer. The proceedings were eventually discontinued, on the ground that Woś’ acts had not constituted offences because of the minimal harm caused to the public.

Relying on Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), Woś complains that the police used excessive force against him and that the investigation into his allegations was inadequate.

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