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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Lorenzo Tondo in Palermo

Five Italian police accused of torturing migrants and homeless people

Italian police
An Italian senator said action needed to be taken against police abuse, which she said was on the rise. Photograph: Ciro de Luca/Reuters

Five police officers in the Italian city of Verona have been arrested on charges of torture and bodily harm against migrants and homeless people.

Two of the suspects are also accused of racist hate crimes against black people and African migrants.

According to investigators, the officers beat migrants and homeless people during identification processes. The suspects have been placed under house arrest.

In one episode, two of the suspects are accused of forcing a person in custody for identification purposes to urinate on the floor and then using him as a “mop to clean up”, according to case documents in the pre-trial detention order.

Investigators said migrants were in some cases pepper-sprayed in the eyes and kicked in the head until they passed out. One of the officers whose phone calls were intercepted by the prosecutors boasted to his girlfriend about beating his victims, who were subjected to xenophobic and racist insults.

The alleged abuses date from July 2022 to March 2023. The investigators said the officers had taken advantage of their status to commit the abuse.

“It cannot be denied that through their conduct all the suspects have betrayed their function, suppressing the rights and freedoms of people under their authority [and] offending their dignity as people, creating disorder themselves and compromising public safety, committing crimes rather than preventing them, in this respect clearly taking advantage of their status, even committing fraudulent misrepresentation in public acts with worrying ease,” the investigators wrote.

A senator for the Greens and Left Alliance, Ilaria Cucchi, whose brother Stefano was arrested and killed by two police officers in Rome in 2009, said action needed to be taken against police abuse that she said was on the rise. “We need to introduce measures, including a police ID number and bodycams,” she said.

Police said the men had been moved to new roles after investigators concluded an inquiry into the alleged brutality. The Verona police chief, Roberto Massucci, also moved other officers on the grounds that they may have failed to take action to prevent the alleged violence or failed to report it.

The investigation was led by prosecutors in Verona with the help of police officers working in the same department as the men arrested.

“The moral standing of our administration enables us to face this moment with the dignity and composure of always,” said the national chief of police, Vittorio Pisani.

It is not the first time Italian police officers have been accused of perpetrating violence against migrants. In 2016, Amnesty International said officers used torture on migrants who refused to be fingerprinted. The organisation said it had received “consistent accounts that arbitrary detention, intimidation and excessive physical force” had been used to force migrants to give their fingerprints to the authorities for processing.

Last week, three members of Italy’s border police force were placed under investigation for a suspected role in a shipwreck off the country’s southern coast this year that killed more than 90 migrants, Italian news outlets reported on Friday.

Quoting from a search warrant issued by prosecutors, the Corriere della Sera newspaper said investigators cited “significant anomalies” in the activity log for a motorboat that Italian border police used in an abandoned search for the overcrowded migrant vessel.

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