THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — A court in Greece ordered the release on bail of a police officer accused of fatally injuring a Roma teenager during a car chase over an allegedly unpaid gas station bill. The teen’s father plans to appeal Monday’s decision to free the officer pending trial, a Roma community leader said.
The Dec. 5 shooting of Kostas Frangoulis, a 16-year-old father of one, triggered days of protests which often turned violent, despite calls for restraint by the teenager’s family and Roma community leaders. Frangloulis died last week after spending more than a week hospitalized in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the head.
The panel of judges that ordered the 34-year-old police officer’s release set one bail condition, prohibiting him from leaving the country.
Police have said the teenager tried to ram the police motorbikes chasing him after he allegedly drove off from a gas station in the northern city of Thessaloniki without paying a 20 euro ($21) bill. The officer accused of shooting him has said he fired because he feared his colleagues’ lives were in danger, but said he was aiming at the pick-up truck’s tires and not at the driver.
“The parents were very upset by this decision,” Panagiotis Sambanis, president of the Roma community of Central and Western Macedonia, said after the court ruled. Frangoulis’ father plans to appeal, Sambanis said.
“If we had done this, we’d already be behind bars,” Sambanis said. “Justice should have judged correctly. It didn’t judge correctly. It is an injustice for the 16-year-old.”
As he has done throughout the case, Sambanis called for calm. He said Roma community leaders would meet to discuss holding a protest march later in the week in Thessaloniki. “This protest will be peaceful. Things will not get out of hand,” he said.
Theofilos Alexopoulos, a lawyer representing Frangoulis’ family, said Monday’s court decision was “wrong,” and called for an expert examination of a CCTV video which caught the incident in order to shed light on the exact circumstances of the shooting.
The Roma community has denounced the shooting as racially motivated. Several Roma men have been injured or fatally shot in recent years during confrontations with police while allegedly seeking to evade arrest for breaches of the law.
The case has put a spotlight on Greece’s Roma people, who face widespread discrimination and often live on the margins of society.
The officer has been charged with a felony count of attempted manslaughter with possible intent and a misdemeanor count of illegally firing his weapon. Following an initial court appearance, he was kept under house arrest pending the resolution of a disagreement between the prosecutor and investigating judge on whether to remand him in pretrial detention.
The charge is expected to be upgraded to manslaughter following the teenager’s death. The change would require the officer to appear in court again for additional preliminary testimony.
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