38-year-old Roger Wilhelm from Zurich was shot dead by a police officer at Morges train station on August 30, 2021. Wilhelm was left lying on his stomach for six and a half minutes without the other police officers involved providing first aid. Despite this, the public prosecutor's office in the canton of Vaud announced on October 10, 2023 that it would not be bringing charges of homicide or failure to render assistance.
Switzerland has no independent institution to investigate incidents of police violence, so an independent civil society review and investigation of this death is urgently needed. An independent commission consisting of scientists from the fields of medicine, psychology, law and social sciences as well as the scientific research organization Border Forensics are now investigating the case themselves. The preliminary results of these investigations were presented today in Lausanne in the presence of Evelyn Wilhelm and the lawyer in charge of the case, Ludovic Tirelli. They show that the decision of the public prosecutor's office urgently needs to be questioned.
Elio Panese, a member of the Border Forensics research team, reconstructed the course of the murder in Morges to the second using a film. The film shows that Wilhelm lay tied up on the ground for six and a half minutes with a gunshot wound to his back and made no other movements apart from breathing. This proves that the police officers involved failed to carry out vital rescue and resuscitation measures. Dr. med. Martin Herrmann, one of the medical experts on the commission (FMH specialist in general surgery and traumatology), confirmed in his analysis that the necessary first aid measures were not carried out, even though Wilhelm, who was lying on his stomach, posed no threat to them and was still breathing. The question to be clarified in court is: Could Wilhelm's life have been saved by immediate first aid measures on the part of the police?
Prof. Dr. Udo Rauchfleisch, professor emeritus of clinical psychology and member of the commission, wrote a report based on psychiatric files, conversations with relatives, statements from witnesses and the video footage of Wilhelm's killing. According to the report, the Vaud police were called to help a black man who showed symptoms of psychosis. According to Rauchfleisch's report, Wilhelm was not aggressive in any way and at no time, but was under stress and would have needed psychological help. Instead of providing help, the four police officers increased Wilhelm's psychological stress. He was seen as a threat and ultimately shot. This raises another crucial question that needs to be clarified in court: Was the police officers' behavior appropriate and was the use of firearms necessary and in accordance with the law?
Wilhelm's death must be seen in the context of other killings of Black people by the police in Switzerland. In the case of Mike Ben Peter, who died on February 28, 2018 as a result of a police operation, the investigating public prosecutor, who is also leading the case of Roger Nzoy Wilhelm, surprisingly demanded an acquittal for the police officers involved during the court proceedings. Lawyer Brigitte Lembwadio Kanyama, a member of the Commission's legal group, severely criticized the handling of deaths resulting from police operations in the canton of Vaud. In all cases, the victims were black people. Lawyer Philipp Stolkin, a member of the commission's legal group, emphasized that the public prosecutor's office should be able to carry out its investigation regardless of the victim's skin color and the public employment status of a suspect.
According to another member of the commission group, legal scholar David Mühlemann, from a human rights perspective, the public prosecutor's office is obliged to investigate such extraordinary deaths independently, effectively and comprehensively: "Nothing less than the public's trust in the state's monopoly on the use of force is at stake." By wanting to close the proceedings in the case, the public prosecutor's office is preventing the possibility of a human rights-compliant investigation. The Commission therefore urges the Vaud Public Prosecutor's Office to open an investigation into the case of Roger Nzoy Wilhelm and to bring the case to trial.
List of speakers
Me Ludovic Tirelli, lawyer
Elio Panese, Border Forensics
Me Brigitte Lembwadio, Attorney at Law
Lic. iur. Philip Stolkin, Attorney at Law
Maïna Aerni, lawyer
David Mühlemann, lawyer
Yosina Koster, lawyer
Dr. Martin Hermann, surgeon
Prof. em. Udo Rauchfleisch, psychologist
Evelyn Wilhelm, plaintiff and sister of Roger Nzoy Wilhelm