Officers Convicted in Cucchi Case but Escape Torture Conviction

​On 14 November, the Rome Court of Assizes sentenced two national police officers to 12 years in prison for the unintentional murder of Stefano Cucchi.

We still have to wait for the court to gives grounds for its judgement, but it is clear that the court found that Stefano Cucchi died from the beatings he suffered inside the Carabinieri barracks.

A brief review of the case shows that he was arrested on 15 October 2009 on minor drug dealing charges. He was taken to a police station where he started to feel ill. An ambulance was called but Stefano refused to be taken to the hospital. Hi home was searched but police found nothing.

He was then taken to court for a hearing to validate his arrest and was then taken to a holding cell in the basement. The judge ordered pre-trial detention in the Regina Coeli prison.

How Stefano Cucchi died

Stefano Cucchi suffered personal injuries including multiple trauma, grazes on the back of his hands, five cuts over the left tibia, other small grazes and a break on the fourth sacral vertebra. He reported that he had fallen down some stairs, but his injuries were not compatible with this account. His family suspected that he could only have suffered these injuries as a result of being beaten by the Carabinieri (national police) and prison police.

He was then taken to the emergency room at the Fatebenefratelli hospital in Rome, where he refused to be admitted, after which he was taken to the prison section of Pertini hospital. He was examined, catheterised, told to stay hydrated and given some supportive therapy.

On 22 October, Stefano was found dead in his bed. Doctors tried to resuscitate him, but unsuccessfully. At the first trial, indictments were forwarded for three prison police officers, six doctors and three nurses at Pertini Hospital in Rome, while a second trial saw the three police officers who had made the initial arrest, along with two others, accused for unintentional murder, slander and forgery. The investigation identified three other police officers accused of ideological forgery.

The facts of the case suggest Stefano Cucchi was tortured

One of the doctors accused in the first trial was acquitted while the others could not be convicted of manslaughter because the statute of limitations had passed. Nevertheless, it is almost certain that Stefano Cucchi would have been alive today if he had not been beaten by police. And the Court of Assizes of Rome (in the second trial) found that this is exactly what happened. The case, as told by one of the Carabinieri present at the arrest, seems to perfectly represent a case falling under art. 613 bis of the Criminal Code.

This is the article, included in the Criminal Code by the law that on 14 July 2017 introduced the crime of torture in Italy. This legislation is aimed at providing legal recourse for people who are subject to violence or threats or have suffered cruelty or acute physical suffering while in custody or care. The penalty is increased if the acts are committed by a public official or a public servant, who in doing so abuses their power in violation of their duties.

Officer testifies about what really happened

The Carabiniere who decided to testify against his colleagues, said that on 15 October 2009, Cucchi had refused to have his fingerprints or mugshot taken and he began to quarrel with one of the carabinieri. The officer turned and hit Cucchi with a violent slap in the face. Then he pushed him, and the other officer kicked Cucchi hard near his anus. The beating continued and Cucchi was violently pushed, causing him to fall to the ground on his pelvis. He also banged his head, and finally, while Cucchi was on the ground one of the two kicked him in the face.

It is clear that the two attackers were public officials on duty who were holding Stefano in custody. It is also clear that the young man was subjected to a real beating that caused him the type of acute physical suffering referred to in Article. 613 bis of the Criminal Code.

Officers cannot be found guilty of torture retroactively, but will still face justice

Article 13 of the Constitution, paragraph 3 of which states that "any physical and moral violence against persons subject to restriction of liberty shall be punished".

In Italy as people cannot be held accountable for crimes under statutes that were not in force at the time of the offence. As the legislation was not in effect when Stefano Cucchi was beaten and died, the officers in question cannot be tried for the crime of torture.

However, the prosecution decided to forward the indictment for the Carabinieri for involuntary manslaughter, which means they can be held accountable for their actions anyway.

We can hope that since this law has been passed that if any such tragedy were to happen again, those responsible would be held fully accountable. But we can also hope that the law will also act as a deterrent and that the police will start to treat suspects first as human beings.