To die at the hands of the state

A film about Stefano Cucchi, a young man beaten to death by the police in October 2009, has just been released in Italy.

Cinzia Sciuto
Cinzia Sciuto MicroMega, Italy
Source: MicroMega
To die at the hands of the state - NewsMavens
Stefano Cucchi, YouTube

Why this story matters:

The Cucchi story has made a strong impression on Italians, who have been following the case for years -- a case led with great determination by Cucchi's sister Ilaria. Stefano died while he was being detained by the state as the result of a series of violent and neglectful acts by policemen, judges and doctors.

The Cucchi case is not an isolated incident. Federico Aldrovandi, Aldo Bianzino, Giuseppe Uva: in Italy, the list of police abuse victims is long.

But Stefano's story is especially distressing. He died not "only" because of the beatings he went through while detained, but also because of the subsequent chain of events.

He was not immediately allowed to contact a lawyer, he was humiliated by surrounding professionals, and transfered from one place to another. The procedure validating his arrest was a travesty, and he was seen by incompetent doctors.

Italy is one of the few countries in Europe where police officers don't have identification numbers on their helmets. Such numbers would be useful to protect protesters and citizens, but also the officers themselves, who otherwise cannot be distinguished from an abusive organization that has little to contribute to public order. It was only last year, after years of exhortation from the international community, that Italy introduced a law against torture, and this law is weak and not at all satisfactory.

In the film -- which is reaching a wide audience thanks to informal efforts on behalf of activists -- there is a scene that sums up its political meaning.

A Rebibbia prison guard sees Stefano's swollen face and asks, "What happened to you?" 

"I fell down the stairs," replies Cucchi.

"When will you stop telling that story about stairs?", asks the guard.

"When the stairs stop beating us," answers Cucchi.

Details from the story:

  • On October 15, 2009 Stefano Cucchi is stopped by the police, taken to the police station, searched and found to possess hashish and cocaine. He is detained until his trial. Already during the first hearing -- to validate his detention -- he is barely able to walk and talk, and has visible bruises around the eyes.
  • After the first hearing, family members repeatedly try to see Stefano, or at least receive information about his physical condition, but their requests are denied. During the seven days he spends in prison, Stefano does not see his relatives or his lawyer.
  • After the hearing, Cucchi's condition worsens. He is taken to the Fatebenefratelli hospital, where doctors observe lesions and bruises on his face (including a broken jaw), abdomen (including bladder hemorrhage) and chest (including two fractures to the spinal column). Hospitalization is therefore requested, but the patient does not consent.
  • His condition further deteriorates in prison; Stefano dies at Sandro Pertini hospital on October 22, 2009. At the time of death, he weighs only 37 kilograms.
  • The family is only notified of Stefano's death when a bailiff goes to their home to request an autopsy authorization.
  • An investigation into Cucchi's death begins. After the first acquittals in the early stages of the trial, in September 2015 the Public Prosecutor's Office of Rome reopens the case at the family's request.
  • In 2017 five police officers are sent to trial for manslaughter and abuse of authority.
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