Police officer Goran Stamenkovic was found guilty of illegal conduct during the demolition of Savamala and received a sentence below the mandatory minimum, despite the fact that, according to the court’s decision, a serious violation of the rights of three citizens and damage of more than 1.5 million dinars occurred. In this manner, the conditions have been met for officer Stamenkovic to keep his job with the police and practically avoid any responsibility. The current price of justice for the demolition of Savamala totals at 3,000 RSD (about 25 EUR), the amount Stamenkovic had to pay to cover the court costs.
According to the orders given by the still unidentified “police command”, police duty-shift chief officer Stamenkovic acted contrary to the law during the demolition of Savamala and did nothing to prevent putting citizens’ safety and their property at risk. He received a suspended sentence of 5 months of probation for negligence. The sentence will not be enforced if Stamenkovic does not commit other criminal offenses in the next two years. However, the suspended sentence should not have prevented the ministry of interior from initiating a disciplinary proceeding against Stamenkovic (see response by the ministry of interior to the question, in Serbian).
According to the law on police (article 202), responsibility for a criminal offense does not exclude disciplinary responsibility for the same act, if there has been a violation of official duty. The duty-shift chief committed at least two serious violations of his official duty (article 207 of the law on police) due to omissions in his work. He did not take action within his jurisdiction to ensure the safety of persons and their property. He committed dereliction of duty when performing tasks legally entrusted to him that caused material damage. Termination is the most severe disciplinary punishment for a serious violation of official duty, but in this case, there was no disciplinary action taken whatsoever.
Deputy public prosecutor Ana Borovic, police officer Stamenkovic, and his attorney Jovica Sosic, reached an agreement that allows the duty-shift manager to keep his job, while the victims and the tens of thousands of people who protested in search of justice for demolition in Savamala were denied a satisfactory judicial epilogue. The judge of the Special department for the suppression of corruption in Belgrade, Milos Labudovic, agreed to this form of “justice”. He accepted a suspended sentence for officer Stamenkovic, one month shorter than the legal minimum that was prescribed for the criminal offense of official misconduct.
The judge approved a plea bargain made by Borovic, Stamenkovic, and Sosić and ruled that the duty-shift manager is to be sentenced to five months of probation for dereliction of duty, instead of a sentence ranging from six months to five years as sanctioned by the law for the criminal offence of official misconduct (article 361 of the Criminal code). This was just enough for Stamenkovic to keep his job seeing as, according to the law, an employee of the ministry of interior is automatically fired if they are sentenced to a prison sentence of at least six months (article 172 of the law on police).
Such a court decision was reached although the facts were not properly established when concluding the plea agreement, which is a crucial factor in passing the proper sentence. In this case, the judge accepted the agreed-upon sentence proposed by the prosecutor and the defendant. Moreover, he considered that the mitigating circumstances (the degree of guilt, the motivation and the circumstances that led to the misconduct, the defendant’s earlier life, personal circumstances and behaviour after the criminal offense) were more important than the general rule that the sentence should be within the limits prescribed by law for that particular offence (article 54 of the Criminal code).
The lack of disciplinary responsibility and a mild sentence for unprofessional conduct of the police officer is a continuation of the systemic relativization of the Savamala case, which even reached the United Nations. At the session of the Human rights council, Serbia rejected Canada’s recommendation to improve the rule of law through a full and public investigation into the alleged involvement of the police and city authorities in the demolition of Savamala. The Serbian delegation rejected this proposal by providing arguments that there is no need to emphasize individual cases and that the national authorities are already carrying out all activities in accordance with the law. Translated, this means that the prosecution is still waiting for the police to provide all the information requested, while the highest representative of the city government, whom even the president of the republic fingered as the individual responsible the demolition, was promoted to minister of finance.
It appears that Canada is more concerned with human rights in Serbia than our own state institutions are.
The author is a researcher of the Belgrade center for security policy (BCSP).
Translated by Bojan Elek