Special operations unit shoots down refugee in front of a refugee-shelter in Bonn (“Paulusheim“) – Little clearity, many open questions
Previous Saturday, August 1, a 23 year old Guinean was shot several times by members of a special operations unit of the police and was hurt severly. Prior to this, he had injured another inhabitant of the accommodation for asylum seekers in Bonn-Endenich minorly with a knife and as a result had fled to the kitchen in the accommodation.
The following text does not aim at making futile speculations. However, the prevailing conditions – a clearly mentally-ill man, hurt by jumping out of a second floor window is only being stopped by the police through multiple shoots from a short distance despite a large police presence including a special operations unit – as well as inconsistencies and obvious gaps, both in the police report and the first press reports, motivated us to obtain our own picture of the events. Because of that, activists from Refugees Welcome Bonn and a member of the student’s council (‚AStA‘) went to the ‚Paulusheim‘ in Bonn-Endenich in order to speak with its inhabitants and get to know their views on the incident. Together with a member of a different initiative of volunteers, which has been very active in Endenich as well as in other accommodations for refugees around Bonn for some time, we spoke to numerous witnesses. Furthermore, we inspected the scene of the incident to be able to reconstruct the sequence of events better. It is beyond question that an armed and aggressive man has to be stopped to prevent the hurting of more people. Nonetheless, we hope to find clarification about the exact sequence of events which is unfortunately missing in the press release of the police.
It is, by the way, thanks to the colleagues from the said voluntary organisations that today, only one day after the shocking events, something like normality has returned to the Paulusheim. When we got there, they were in the middle of distributing clothes to inhabitants and also engaged in lively and pleasant conversations.
The sequence of events according to our state of knowledge
It appears undisputable that the 23 year old man, armed with knives, entered the room of a friend around 4.30 pm (shortly before an emergency call reached the police). Besides the said 27 year old friend, the later victim of cuts, there were two other people in the room: his room mate as well as a volunteer who similtaneously ran a summer party in the back yard of the accommodation. The volunteer had previously been informed by the victim of problems with the later attacker who appeared increasingly mentally disturbed whereupon he went to the third floor of the accommodation. When in the room, the victim was cut on his arm and, upon trying to wrest the knife from his friend, received another cut on his hand. After that the attacker left the room, the remaining three people locked themselves in and the police was called over the phone. The attacker, still armed with knives, fled to a kitchen on the second floor of the building. There were attempts to calm him down and convince him to disarm himself. However, these failed and around 7 pm the man jumped or fell out of the window, probably still armed with knives, onto the building’s forecourt. There are differing statements about whether he jumped or fell out of the building on the part of the police, the press and eyewitnesses who said that he tried to get from the second to the first floor which was unsuccesful. (For a better illustration, see attached pictures.)
It is the following events about which there appears to be a serious lack of clarity. The short police report (1) suggests that the armed man was running towards the police, who occupied a barricade, and could eventually only be “overpowered” by being shot multiple times after a failed attempt to stop him through the use of pepper spray. As can be seen in a 23 second long video, said shots took place on the lawn in front of the building. A big pool of blood could still be seen by the time we arrived at the Paulusheim. However, the said field is situated around 30 meters away from the place where the shot man hit the ground. According to an eyewitness, there was a sound when the 23 year old man hit the ground which suggests that he broke his leg on impact (a more recent version of the article by the Generalanzeiger (a local newspaper) also hints to a fracture of the leg). Furthermore, eyewitnesses have reported that at the time of the fall several police officers were standing next to the building’s main entrance which is close to the place of the crash and that one police officer – probably the one which was affected by the failed use of pepper spray – was situated between the armed man and the lawn where the latter one was ultimately shot down. However, reports from eyewitnesses as well as a bullet hole in the glass door of the building’s ground floor (see attached photo) which is situated right next to the place of the fall suggest that the police fired shots even before the final sequence of shots on the lawn. This portrayal of events on the part of witnesses is reinforced through the article by the Express (another local paper) from August 2 (see below) which states that the first shots were already fired shortly after the fall. Such circumstances would shine a different light on the following panic-stricken attempt to escape by the already injured man which was possibly perceived by the police as an attack on their colleague. In the mentioned video, which obviously only shows a fraction of the events, it is not apparent that the group of police officers which fired the shots unto the field, was situated in the
direction in which the man was running. It rather appears that the latter one is moving away from them, running parallel to the group (2). Ultimately, it has to be stated that there remain many open questions due to the portrayal of the events on the part of the police.
Moreover, there are other clues which raise doubts about a well-considered police operation. Witnesses gave very differing statements about whether the building was cleared during the almost two and a half hours of the operation. Several inhabitants said that they were brought to a street behind the barricade away from the site by the police for their own safety. Almost as many people, however, told us that some inhabitants remained inside the building the entire time. These statements raise questions about whether the police carried out a systematic evacuation – a question which is of particular importance due to the evident shot at the glass door. Luckily enough, nobody was in the recreation room behind the window which borders directly on a playing room for kids since both rooms were locked. A few inhabitants further complained about the police treating them roughly and almost all of the people we spoke to voiced a lack of understanding about the multiple shooting down of an armed, yet already injured and fleeing man. One participant of the summer party, which took place in the garden on the other side of the house, stated that the several police officers which appeared quickly did at first not take any measures to evacuate or protect the people present of which many were kids and this despite insistent pointing out of the situation.
It is further worth stating that despite the fact that it is surely difficult to judge a mentally confused, armed offender, several reports mention that the victim – a friend or at least an acquaintance and compatriot of the perpetrator – never feared for his life and returned to the accommodation as soon as possible after his initial medical treatment in the hospital, hoping he could help and calm down the offender. Furthermore, and contrary to the portrayal in some newspapers, the attack was not the consequence of a fight between perpetrator and victim but was carried out very abruptly.
We have also been told that the 23 year old man had shown psychologically conspicuous behaviour prior to the events which is why his friends had thought about admitting him to a psychiatric hospital. As a consequence of his behaviour, the man was also known to the police.
A few words about the media coverage so far
As we have stated beforehand, there are different, in parts contradictory, statements about the exact sequence of events in the media. Whilst a reporter from the Bonn branch of the Express was present at the time of the shots and thus wrote an (in our opinion) essentially coherent report (3), the first online article on the part of the Generalanzeiger (4) basically reproduced the police report which had simply been copied in parts. In our mind, this does not fulfil the journalistic duty of care – even considering the short time between the events and the publication of the report – and further showed a tendency to provide an open goal for racist and contemptuous comments, inter alia in social networks. Yet, it has to be said that the article has at least been complemented several times since its first publication. The worst report, though, was published on the part of WDR Bonn which depicted the incident as a “bloody dispute in an acommodation for asylum seekers” and assumed that the offender ran “amok“ (5).
Members of a voluntary organisation praised several residents who opened their doors and thus provided refuge to anxious inhabitants, some of whom were pregnant women. Be that as it may, it leaves a nasty taste that there is a great lack in professional staff to take care of refugees in Bonn, particularly due to increasing numbers of refugees. Many people have suffered immense traumatisation prior to as well as during fleeing, traumas which are inconceivable in Central European standards. There is a severe lack of social workers, not to mention counseling. The need for action is very urgent in order to prevent situations such as the one mentioned above from happening in the future.
Last, it needs to be mentioned that we welcome a routine institution of preliminary proceedings
regarding the legitimacy of the firing by the police. We further hope that possible inappropriate behavior by the police will consequently be named as such and that a detailed clearing up on the part of the police and the public prosecutor’s office will follow the first evidently incomplete press release.
Refugees Welcome Bonn, August 3 2015
(Photos: Jana Klein)
UPDATE (August 4): As a consequence of new articles by both, the Express and the Generalanzeiger, we have to relativise our previos praise for the Express‘ initially good, first-hand reporting due to their article from Monday August 3 (6). Not only does the newspaper use suggestive language (such as no longer calling the man a 23-year old Guinean but a “man of knives” and an “African with dreadlocks”) but further spreads in our opinion partly incorrect information. The newspaper, for example, states that the 23 year old “stabbed” his friend “to the ground”. This is contradictory to the statement made by the victim who was hurt minorly on his hand and arm. Further, there was no dispute prior to the incident such as claimed by the Express (see above). We regret that the newspaper has apparently turned from an initially commendable reporting to making certain concessions to the boulevard.
The WDR, on the other hand, has improved their coverage following the awful first headline of the incident (see above) by publishing a differentiating report (7) (evening August 3). The said report refers decisively to the announcement of a press conference where the head of social services Angelika Maria Wahrheit voiced some quite correct issues such as the problems which arise when accommodating many people in confined spaces and the fact that the traumatisation of numerous war refugees requires a lot of psychological support. Hopefully such realisations will be put into practice by the local government, for example through introducing decentralised housing for asylum seekers in private flats which has been demanded for a long time. The city of Wuppertal demonstrates a good way to go about such decentralised accommodation (8). Voluntary initiatives in Bonn, on the other hand, face serious difficulties when supporting those refugees who receive a permission for moving into private flats in searching for flats due to the situation of the housing market. The city could change these circumstances through appropriate administrative measures, such as those undertaken in Wuppertal.
Today, August 4, the Generalanzeiger published an article which was investigated more properly (9) than their first publication (see above). Yet, there remains the bitter pill of our member Sarah Puls having been quoted falsely. She did not state that our association is going to offer psychological training, training for which we would not have the necessary qualifications. Instead, she said that members of our group have been thinking about taking part in a training about how to deal with traumatised people themselves since we are constantly in contact with refugees who need particular support due to having experienced violence. Further, we have to contradict the assertions made by the head of social services Angelika Maria Wahrheit (“if someone is in need of psychological support, he will receive it”). Whilst we are painfully aware of the fact that many asylum seekers end up in psychiatric hospitals such as the LVR-Klinik (which by the way creates high costs for the city), the medical support for people, particularly those of an uncertain asylum status, are generally inadequate. This is not an entirely local problem but is in parts caused by legal requirement throughout Germany. Nonetheless, we do see a flexibility for rationally-orientated local politics to improve the ambulant psychological care of refugees.
(3) http://www.express.de/…/st--paulusheim-in-bonn-endenich-nac… und http://www.express.de/…/messer-attacke-in-bonn-endenich-sek…
(4) http://www.general-anzeiger-bonn.de/…/SEK-schiesst-nach-Mes… [WURDE MITTLERWEILE GEÄNDERT UND MEHRFACH ERGÄNZT]
Picture 1: at the top on the right: kitchen window from which the 23 year old man jumped or fell; at the bottom on the left: glass door with bullet hole
Picture 2: close-up of the bullet hole
Map of the area
New information about the violent police operation in the accommodation for refugees in Bonn-Endenich
Last Monday we already gave a report of our state of knowledge pertaining the incidents from Saturday, August 1. Meanwhile we received more information about what happened. A couple of days after that incident, 80 people of the association of Guineans in Bonn (AREGUIB e.V.) had at meeting in which many expressed how shocked and appalled they were by the actions by the special operations unit at the Paulusheim in Endenich. The association is in close contact with the shooting victim and their president confirmed that he was hit by eight bullets. One of the bullets hit him in the neck and shortly missed his spine. The victim was in an artificial coma and still isn‘t fully conscious. At the association’s meeting, it turned out that the security guards were informed, even before the knife attack, of the critical condition of the later shooting victim but ignored it.
We were not able to get any confirmation of our previous findings (see our first report), neither from the public prosecutor’s office nor the police. By the time a friendly journalist was finally able to reach the press officer of the Bonn police department, he said that he wasn‘t allowed to give any information because the investigation is now in the hands of the Cologne police department. The only information he confirmed was that it was the special operations unit from Düsseldorf which performed the order. The public prosecutor’s office refused to answer any questions from said freelance journalist which was justified by stating that she couldn‘t come up with a current press card. After the special operations unit from Cologne recently made lots of negative headlines (1), it’s the unit from Düsseldorf which is responsible this time. They attracted negative attention in 2011 after shooting a man of Iranian origin 109 times in his car during a planned arrest. The Cologne police department investigated this incident but even after more than 4 years failed to come up with any results, inter alia because most of the involved police officers refused to give an account of what happened when they had been first questioned (2).
This only constitutes one more reason for us to have a close look at the upcoming events in cooperation with AREGUIB e.V. and with the support of lawyers.
Refugees Welcome Bonn, August 7 2015