Switzerland: charges dropped in the Aubonne bridge affair

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Nyon — The prosecutor did not withhold complains for "simple" and "severe" physical harm by negligence against gendarmes Poget and Deiss in the trial of the Aubonne Bridge affair. Verdict will be given of Friday in the morning.


Martin Shaw and Gesine Wenzel, plaintifs

On the 1st of June 2003, during the G8, a 19-person group of altermondialist militants held an illegal barricade, without notice, on the highway bridge which crosses the Aubonne river.

A rope was put across the road: at one end, 20 metres above the river, militant Martin Shaw had tied himself; the rope would get up to the bridge, loop around the barrier, bar the road, loop again at the other barrier, and get down to its other end, with militant Gesine Wenzel.

The rope was protected by two barrages of militantes and by posters reading "Do not shoot", and "Stop here or you will kill two people" (photo [1]). Neither Wenzel not Shaw had any form of security system and the rope was not tied to the barriers; thus, the lives of the two militants depended on the integrity of the rope barring the road. Both activists were invisible from the road, unless looking over the barrier.

A dozen minutes afterward, the police arrived and tried to free the way for the 200 cars stalled by the blockade. The policemen saw the militants hanging at the end of the rope, and thus tried to have the cars drive below the rope by lifting it. Then, 25-year old gendarme Deiss, from Schaffouse, moved in and cut the rope with his knife. Gesine Wenzel was saved in extremis and pulled onto the bridge, shocked. Martin Shaw fell 20 metres into the shallow river, suffering severe injuries to his spine and several fractures; he had to spent one full month in hospital to recover, and still suffers from his wounds.

Deiss did not speak any French (the indident took place in the French-speaking part of Switzerland) and was unaware of the presence of the militants; sergeant Poget was responsible for the intervention of the police. The plaintifs requested that Poget and Deiss be convicted for simple (for Wenzel) and severe (for Shaw) injuries by negligence.


Maître Garbade, lawyer for the plaintifs

The plaintifs argued that the policemen had not tried to discuss with the activists and were not properly coordinated.

The clause of "rupture of causality links", which describes cases where things cannot be predicted, does not apply here because once the situation was assessed, it was the duty of the policemen to warn their colleagues.

Maître Garbade, lawyer of the plaintifs, also underlined the risks of being softer with the police and of the feeling of impunity which could follow. Since policement are typically confronted to delinquents, he said, their errors bring to context the offences committed by their victims, which tends to induce clemency for them (in this matter, the activists were trialed and convicted for blocking traffic circulation).

He also mentionned the difficulty of the investigation; the police was tempted to negate that a policeman had cut the rope, refused to aknowledge some testimonies, and gave immediate psychological support to Deiss, which was not done for the victims. "I do not believe that this trial would have taken place if it was not for the two video recordings", he said.

Maître Garbade went on saying that it was common sense to check the end of a rope before cutting it and requested that Poget and Deiss be convicted for simple (for Wenzel) and severe (for Shaw) injuries by negligence.


M. Stoll, first substitute to the procuror, warned against the "myth of police impunity" and argued that he had recently requested and obtained conviction of two policemen. "Then are no preferences within the prosecution," he said.

The prosecution went on arguing that the "rupture of causality links" did in fact apply, since the time between Poget realising the situation and Deiss cutting the rope was very brief (one minute). Absence of dialogue between the policemen and the militants was understandable because the protest was unexpected, illegal and dangerous (the activists had blocked the highway without adequate signs warning the motorists).

The confused messages of the posters were also alluded to "Do not shoot" and "Stop here or you will kill two people", while a simple drawing of two people hanging from a bridge would have make the situation instantaneously clear for everybody; such drawings are featured on the web site of the activists.

The prosecution conclued saying that the "most probable cause" of the accident was the protest itself, and dropped the charges.

The lawyer for sergeant Poget



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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.