Police spent over €1.3 million on lawyers in fatal chokehold case
The police paid over 1.3 million euros in attorney's fees in the case around the fatal arrest of Mitch Henriquez in The Hague in 2015, RTL Nieuws reports based on figures received from the Den Haag police after an appeal on the freedom of information act. This only involves attorney's fees up to May 2018. The case was only finally completed last week.
Mitch Henriquez, a 42-year-old man from Aruba, was arrested at a music festival in The Hague in June 2015 after he shouted at cops that he had a weapon and pointed at his crotch. The drunk man was detained by five cops after multiple warnings. A chokehold was used on him and he later died in hospital. Of the five cops involved in his arrest, two were eventually prosecuted. One was acquitted in 2019. The other was finally convicted of assault with death as a result by the Supreme Court last week. He was given a suspended prison sentence of six months.
Law firm Sjöcrona-Van Stigt claimed 1,309,380.96 euros from the police between June 2015 and May 2019, according to RTL Nieuws. This involved legal assistance to at least 26 police officers - the five named suspects, and 21 police witnesses. After a lawsuit filed by Sjöcrona-Van Stigt, the Central District Court ruled in March 2018 and the Council of State ruled in August 2020 that the number of hours billed and the hourly rate charged by the law firm did not have to be disclosed. As a result, it is largely impossible to see how the amount of 1.3 million euros was built up, according to the broadcaster.
But three recently surfaced rulings did show that the legal assistance to the three cops who were named suspects, but ended up not being prosecuted, amounted to 215 thousand euros. This amount was built up in the period from Henriquez's death in June 2015 to the case against them being dropped in September 2016.
Sjöcrona-Van Stigt told RTL Nieuws that the large bill is explained by the size of the Henriquez case and the large number of police officers involved. "Our office understandably had to do a lot of work in the various, years-long procedures," Arthur van Stigt told the broadcaster.
The police consider it their "duty as employer to pay compensation for legal assistance", the police said to RTL Nieuws in response. When asked whether this legal assistance could have been cheaper, the police replied: "We reimburse lawyers who use fixed, market-based rates and who specialize in the police profession." The police did not provide any details so the broadcaster could assess whether the charged rates were indeed market rates.
Other lawyers and scientists criticized the amount the police spent for legal assistance in this case, calling it "extremely expensive", "disgraceful", and "class justice" in responses to RTL Nieuws.
"These extreme rates are disproportionate to the fees the state pays to lawyers who assist poor people," Mies Westerveld, emeritus professor of Access to Justice, said to the broadcaster. "The balance is really lost between a lawyer for a police officer - who is suspected of an official crime - and the lawyer of a civilian who is suspected of murder, for example. That is really bad for the rule of law."
"1.3 million in three years... that is really absurd," said lawyer Reinier Feiner, chairman of the Dutch association for social attorneys VSAN. A lawyer assigned to someone who can't afford it for a simple case appearing in the police court will get about 700 euros, he explained. For a more complex case, it would be around 1,100 euros. "In the most exceptional and complex court cases, that could be perhaps 12,000 euros. With an appeal, 20,000 euros. But not 1.3 million. That is really extremely expensive."
Richard Korver, who provided legal assistance to Henriquez's mother, received around 50 thousand euros from the Council for Legal Assistance by mid-2018. Lawyer Gerald Roethof who assisted Henriquez's girlfriend got 6,600 euros for his troubles. "1.3 million is a disgraceful amount of money. And the government financed it. Other suspect do not get such an infinite budget to hire lawyers and experts. The government creates a kind of royal first class for its own people like this when it comes to legal aid. I think this is a gigantic legal inequality," Korver said to the broadcaster.
According to SP parliamentarian Michiel van Nispen, the police's massive legal aid bill in this case is not consistent with the cutbacks in subsidized legal aid over the past years. "Apparently there is a big difference in the Netherlands between legal aid for the ordinary citizen and legal aid for a public servant. I think that is very bad for trust in the government," Van Nispen said to RTL. The SP wants to know from Ministers Ferdinand Grapperhaus of Justice and Security and Sander Dekker for Legal Protection why it was necessary to spend 1.3 million euros on legal aid for police officers in this case. "I also want to reopen the discussion about the rates of social lawyers," Van Nispen said.