Norway is known for its mostly unarmed and friendly police officers, but a few of them went amok against two young men in Kongsberg last autumn. After repeatedly beating them, another officer snatched the phone of a third man who’d picked it all up on video, and then erased the offensive evidence of the violence. It’s only all being made painfully public now, and prompting calls for mandatory use of cameras mounted on police officers’ uniforms.
The ugly scene from Kongsberg finally emerged publicly after newspaper Dagbladet reported how internal police investigators had uncovered the violent episode and charged the officers involved. The offending officers had reported an assault against themselves, but when internal investigators examined video from a surveillance camera at the scene, they were stunned to get a very different version of what actually happened.
It all began when a private security guard in Kongsberg contacted police and claimed he’d had a rough encounter with several young men. When police arrived at the scene, a gasoline station in Kongsberg, the officers appear to have reacted violently and without being directly provoked.
The surveillance video obtained by police, first published by Dagbladet (external link, in Norwegian) late last week and then aired nationwide on state broadcaster NRK’s nighly newscast Dagsrevyen, shows a young man walking past the police officers at the gas station when one of the officers suddenly lunges at him, now identified as Kevin Simensen. He was tackled and thrown to the ground, after which the police officer is seen punching him several times in the head (external link, in Norwegian) while his colleague held Simensen down.
“His use of force (external link, in Norwegian) prompted friends of Simensen to intervene,” according to a report from the equivalent of an internal affairs department at the police and reported by NRK. That in turn led to one of them, Kristian Teigen, also being thrown to the ground, kicked and beaten, both with the police officers’ fists and their batons.
“It was hell,” Teigen told NRK last week. He said he’d heard his friend Simensen shriek that he couldn’t breathe, but when Teigen rushed over and “asked them to stop” holding him down, he said the officer with the baton “came after me and began to beat me repeatedly.”
Meanwhile, a third friend seen standing near the gasoline pumps took out his mobile phone and began filming, only to have his phone snatched away from him by another officer, who is then seen in the surveillance video tampering with it. Police investigators later determined that the officer had erased the offensive footage on the phone of the brutality carried out by his colleagues, seemingly unaware that overhead surveillance cameras were rolling anyway and picked up the entire incident. It’s illegal for police in Norway to tamper with private phones, much less erase video.
The surveillance footage was even more revealing, though, prompting police officials to immediately pull the officers involved out of service. One of them has since been charged with assault while his colleague is under investigation for erasing evidence of it.
A defense attorney for one of the violent officers told NRK that his client “understands that the (surveillance) video looks violent.” NRK viewers were shocked to see Norwegian police officers behaving in such a manner, with some telling local media that it reminded them of reports of police aggression in the US.
“This is something our internal affairs department has followed up in an administrative evaluation, and sent further on to the chief of the regional Sør-Øst Police District,” prosecutor Marit Storeng told NRK. Jon Edward Torp, leader of the Kongsberg chapter of police union Politiets Fellesforbundet that represents the officers involved, declined comment other than to remark that “we’ve seen the same (video) as everyone else, but don’t want to comment on the incident at present.” Another union officials, however, told NRK that he understands such video can damage public confidence in the police. “This type of case is difficult for everyone involved,” Ørjan Hjortland, deputy leader of the police officers’ association, told NRK.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported over the weekend that the Kongsberg incident has boosted debate over the use of bodycams on police. They can help prevent such police violence and document it when it occurs. Bodycams have been tested in Oslo but only on a small scale.
“Use of such cameras can boost confidence in police for residents, but also in some situations harm such confidence,” Torgeir Hauge of the state police direktorate told Aftenposten.
Andreas Sjalg Unneland, a Member of Parliament for the Socialist Left Party, thinks the cameras should be tested again. “It’s frightening to think how this case would have been handled if there hadn’t been surveillance video available,” Unneland told Aftenposten.