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Brutal Death In Custody Prompts Charges Of Police Abuse In Russia's Urals

Stanislav Golovko died in the Urals city of Nizhny Tagil last month, days after being taken into police custody.
Stanislav Golovko died in the Urals city of Nizhny Tagil last month, days after being taken into police custody.

Forty-two-year-old Stanislav Golovko was a typical resident of the Urals city of Nizhny Tagil.

Four years ago, his wife left him and took their son with her. Golovko began to drink and ended up getting fired from his job at the massive Uralvagonzavod railroad plant. He ended up living in a small apartment with his sister, Yekaterina, and her 6-year-old son.

Around 3 p.m. on September 27, two police officers arrested him on suspicion of robbery. He died in a local hospital on September 30. On October 3, Yekaterina Golovko collected his battered body from the city morgue. The coroner's report on the cause of death was terse: "Multiple wounds to the head from contact with a blunt object with unknown intentions in an unknown location."

On October 25, a district court in Nizhny Tagil confirmed the detention of police investigator Dmitry Panov and Senior Lieutenant Yegor Yalunin on charges of "causing fatal injuries" and "exceeding official authority," leading to Golovko's death. The officers could face up to 15 years in prison. In court, the judge said the medical examiner had found evidence of 26 injuries on the body, including nine broken ribs, three skull fractures, and broken fingers and toes on all four extremities.

A third police officer, who has not been identified, was arrested on October 26 in relation to the case.

"They beat him in room No. 402," Yekaterina Golovko told RFE/RL. "The officer [Yalunin] who interrogated him wrote in the register that my brother supposedly began to act strangely during questioning and caused himself serious bodily harm. According to them, my brother killed himself."

"The coroner concluded that he had been beaten all over his body, beaten to death," she added. "His ribs were broken. He had a fatal injury to his head. The police are trying to tell us that he fell and hit his head when he was being transferred. If he had fallen and hit his head, he wouldn't have survived three days, since his injuries were fatal. He had three skull fractures. He couldn't have fallen down three times."

'Brazen Crime'

Golovko said she has been able to piece together quite a bit about her brother's last days from personal contacts she has with people who work inside precinct No. 17, where he was allegedly tortured for three days before being rushed to a hospital with his fatal wounds.

"I can't name their names," she told RFE/RL. "People are afraid of losing their jobs. In general, everyone is afraid. And they try to frighten me, saying: 'Katya, why? Aren't you afraid?' Of course, I'm worried. I am completely alone. I have a small son. But I can't sleep peacefully because I know that my brother was murdered, brazenly murdered."

"The coroner's report is terrifying," she added. "I can tell you that he was beaten everywhere. I undressed him and looked at him. There wasn't a part of his body that wasn't beaten. Excuse me for saying so, but he had defecated in his pants as he was beaten. It was a hideous, brazen crime."

Since Stanislav Golovko died, a number of others have come forward with allegations of abuse at precinct No. 17. (file photo)
Since Stanislav Golovko died, a number of others have come forward with allegations of abuse at precinct No. 17. (file photo)

Aleksei Bushmakov is a lawyer with the nongovernmental organization Rights Zone (Zona prava). He defended Yekaterinburg blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky, who was given a suspended prison sentence of two years and three months after being convicted of insulting religious sensibilities by, among other things, playing Pokemon Go in a church.

Bushmakov says the revelations regarding the Golovko case have prompted others to come forward with allegations of widespread and systematic abuse in precinct No. 17.

"This case is distinguished by the cruelty with which the police acted," Bushamkov told RFE/RL. "But now we are getting reports from various sources about other officers there indicating that torture and beatings happen there systematically."

After the Golovko story appeared on the local website, people began leaving anonymous comments about alleged abuse at the precinct.

"Once I stopped there on business," one reader wrote. "I was walking down a corridor and I saw an open office. A man was lying on the floor, covered in blood and in handcuffs."

'Bloody' Stories

Another reader who claimed to be a retired police officer wrote: "That precinct has long been infamous for its incidents. Some sort of bloody story was always happening there, in which some investigator 'overdid it' during an interrogation. They sent a lot of officers there who had served in various combat zones. They were all either drinking or suffering from nervous disorders.I can't think of another precinct that had such issues as that one."

"People are afraid to speak about police crimes so a lot of what they do goes unreported," Bushmakov said, adding that he hopes the Golovko case will prompt others to come forward.

He said it is possible that all the facts in the Golovko case have not yet emerged. Yekaterina Golovko believes at least four officers were involved in her brother's death, he said, adding that additional charges could be filed.

However, the arrest of police investigator Panov does not necessarily mean the case is headed for a just resolution, Bushmakov warned.

Panov's father, the lawyer said, is a former deputy chairman of the Dzerzhinsky District Court, where the case is being heard.

"It will be very interesting to see how the judges act in this case," Bushmakov said. He noted that the charge of causing death by "exceeding authority" generally is treated less seriously than a murder charge.

"Although it should be just the opposite," he told RFE/RL. "People need to have faith in the police and the police must defend the law. But what we see here is the exact opposite."

Written by RFE/RL senior correspondent Robert Coalson on the basis of reporting by RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Mark Krutov
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    Mark Krutov

    Mark Krutov is a correspondent for RFE/RL's Russian Service and one of the leading investigative journalists in Russia. He has been instrumental in the production of dozens of in-depth reports, exposing corruption among Russia's political elite and revealing the murky operations behind Kremlin-led secret services. Krutov joined RFE/RL in 2003 and has extensive experience as both a correspondent and a TV host.

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    Robert Coalson

    Robert Coalson is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who covers Russia, the Balkans, and Eastern Europe.