Prosecutor demands acquittal for officers accused of Mitch Henriquez' death in custody

Mitch Henriques (Picture: Facebook/Mitch Henriquez)Mitch Henriques (Picture: Facebook/Mitch Henriquez)

Mitch Henriquez did not die as a result of a chokehold used on him when he was arrested in Zuiderpark in The Hague in June 2015, the Public Prosecutor said in court on Monday. The two police officers charged with the Aruban man's death should therefore be acquitted of manslaughter and death through negligence. Henriquez' arrest was justified, but too much violence was used. The two police officers are therefore guilty of abuse, the Prosecutor said. No punishment was demanded against them, AD reports.

Expert opinions about the cause of Henriquez' death vary, but tend towards heart failure and acute stress - therefore not suffocation due to a chokehold. The Public Prosecutor therefore believes that the officers can not be held accountable for his death. The violence used in his arrest was unlawful, but his heart failure could have been caused by something else, the Prosecutor said. 

"We believe that only abuse can be proved, an effective punishment is no longer appropriate and necessary", the Prosecutor said, according to AD reporter Jorina Haspels tweeting live from the courtroom. "They are guilty of abuse, but have been punished enough."

The Public Prosecutor also said that Henriquez arrest was justified given his provocative behavior and intoxicated state - Henriquez repeatedly shouted at the police that he had a weapon and refused to leave when instructed to do so. The officers were therefore allowed to arrest the Aruban man, and use violence because he resisted. But the Prosecutor does not consider it credible that the officers actually thought he really had a weapon. He did not pose a real danger to the officers, according to the Prosecutor. Therefore they should not have used a chokehold - a harsh and risky move - on Henriquez in this situation. The use of pepper spray was also unlawful, because it restricted his breathing. According to the Prosecutor, there were enough officers in the area to keep the large man in check in other ways. 

Based on footage of the arrest, the Public Prosecutor also does not consider it credible that the officers continually checked Henriquez' condition during the struggle as they claim. But he added that the video does not show Henriquez "turning purple" as his relatives said. According to the Prosecutor, the footage clearly shows that an officer used a chokehold on Henriquez, and did not "just" grab him by the head as the officer claims. 

Henriquez was arrested at a music festival in the Zuiderpark late in June 2015. He died a day later. Five police officers were involved in the arrest. Only these two are facing criminal prosecution. One of them used a chokehold on Henriquez, the other punched him and used pepper spray on him, according to AD. 

A few of Mitch's relatives were present in the courtroom. According to the newspaper, they shook their heads in dismay as the Prosecutor spoke. Mitch's ex, and mother of his son, called the Prosecutor's behavior "scandalous" when speaking to Haspels after the hearing. "Everyone could see on the footage wat the police officers did. Officers can do what they want, because they won't be punished", the woman said. "I don't know how I'm going to explain this to my son. I just can't understand why."