Expert forensics witness has history of backing cops in violence cases: Report

Mitch Henriquez
Mitch Henriquez. (Mitch Henriquez / Facebook)

The lawyers of two police officers being prosecuted for the death of Mitch Henriquez, likely hired expert forensic witness Kees Das to reexamine Henriquez death due to Das' history of backing police officers in brutality cases, AD reports. In the Henriquez case Das concluded that the 42-year-old Aruban man died of cardiac arrest, not because of a chokehold used on him during his arrest. In a similar case seven years ago, six police officers were acquitted after a similar conclusion by Das, according to the newspaper.

There are a number of similarities in the two cases. In 2003 Horst C., 42, was arrested for the possession of cannabis and a weapon. At the police station C. became aggressive and six guards worked him to the floor. He fell unconscious and died a few days later, covered in bruises. In 2015 Henriquez was arrested at a music festival in The Hague. Five police officers worked him to the ground. He lost consciousness and died a day later, also covered in bruises.

The case around Horst C.'s death only came to trial in 2010. The Netherlands Forensic Institute concluded that C. died due to the violence the police used against him. The defense called in forensic doctor Das to examine C.'s death. Das concluded that C. probably died of cardiac arrest caused by him resisting the police, not by the police officers' use of violence against him.

In Henriquez' case, the NFI concluded that he likely suffocated to death due to a crushed larynx, likely caused by a chokehold used on him during his arrest. Das concluded that Henriquez most likely died due to cardiac arrest or arrhythmias, not due to the chokehold.

The doubts Das' report sowed about C.'s cause of death resulted in the six involved police officers being acquitted. The judge ruled that the experts' conclusions are "diametrically" opposed and that C.'s death could not be linked to the officers' actions with complete certainty. The trial in Henriquez' case hasn't started yet. But on Tuesday the court in The Hague did decide to postpone its start so that Das' report can be studied.

Lawyer Gerald Roethof, representing some of Henriquez' relatives, has no doubt that Das was hired by the defense due to the previous case. But he doesn't think Henriquez' case will go the same way. "Because there are big differences. In our case we have a battery of independent witnesses who saw how violently the officers treated Henriquez. We also have footage of the struggle", he said to AD. Another difference is that Horst C.'s history of drug use weakened his health, while Mitch Henriquez was a healthy adult. "You can talk all you want about arrhythmias, but Mitch Henriquez was a healthy man who died after police violence", the lawyer said.