Parents and siblings of murdered journalist Jan Kuciak visit his grave at a cemetery in Stiavnik, central Slovakia / AFP Despite undeniable progress in the investigation into the double murder of Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak and his partner Martina Kušnírová a year ago, there is concern about political interference. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the Slovak authorities to ensure that the investigation continues to be conducted in a completely independent manner. Slovak premier visits RSF, encouraged to turn his country into “press freedom model for Europe” News June 2, 2021 Find out more Vanek resigned following these revelations but Glváč, a member of the ruling party, has not. While acknowledging that he had exchanged texts and selfies with her, he denied that he had been subjected to any pressure. Organisation to go further News RSF_en As well as being very close to Kočner, Alena Zs. had also been introduced to high-ranking Slovak officials and politicians. The newspaper Denník N reported last month that she had been in contact with deputy prosecutor general René Vanek and parliamentary deputy speaker Martin Glváč prior to Kuciak’s murder and that she had remained in contact with Vanek until three days before her arrest. Follow the news on Slovakia This part of the investigation concerns Daniel Lipšic, the Kuciak family’s lawyer, who is a former justice minister for a party now in opposition. He is also a sworn enemy of Kočner and was himself the target of a murder plot. The Kušnírová family’s lawyer, Roman Kvasnica, told RSF that he feared that evidence that is compromising for certain people close to the case would be used against them with the aim of obstructing the investigation. February 17, 2019 – Updated on February 18, 2019 Slovakia: Concern about political meddling in year-old Kuciak murder investigation Kočner is now strongly suspected of being the mastermind of Kuciak’s murder, or one of the masterminds. Although detained, he still reportedly has a vast network of contacts within the Slovak state that he can count on for help. If the bill is approved, “there will be more repression,” said Beata Balogová of the newspaper SME, while Peter Bárdy of Aktuality.sk (Kuciak’s news website) said he regarded the bill as an attempt to “gag and punish independent media.” Denník N’s Matúš Kostolný said: “The politicians are attacking journalists and fleeing responses themselves.” Slovakia is ranked 27th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index after falling ten places in the space of a year. He said he feared that “persons acted or could still be acting on behalf of the Slovak Republic and may have helped create the environment that led to the death of these two innocent young people.” He said he was nonetheless confident that the investigation would be concluded successfully thanks to the integrity of the chief investigator, who no one would dare obstruct if the investigation continued to receive national and international coverage. The ruling Smer party has just proposed a very controversial law under which media outlets could be fined heavily for failing to give politicians space to reply whenever they feel that something published has “damaged their reputation” or “violated their privacy.” The timing is alarming, given that the media’s revelations about politicians have helped this investigation to progress. News Receive email alerts Use the Digital Services Act to make democracy prevail over platform interests, RSF tells EU Help by sharing this information In September 2018, the police charged four suspects, one of whom, a woman identified as Alena Zs, is now also suspected of helping to prepare other murders. She worked for Marian Kočner, a Slovak businessman who had Kuciak placed under surveillance because he thought Kuciak was taking too much interest in his affairs. The subject of several judicial proceedings, Kočner is now also detained. SlovakiaEurope – Central Asia Protecting journalistsProtecting sources CorruptionOrganized crimeImpunityJudicial harassmentViolence “A year after the murder, politicians should be working to provide journalists with better protection and to ensure that the police and judicial authorities are operating in a completely independent manner,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk. “Instead, the opposite is happening. Certain politicians seem to be concerned above all to defend their interests and protect themselves.” SlovakiaEurope – Central Asia Protecting journalistsProtecting sources CorruptionOrganized crimeImpunityJudicial harassmentViolence Despite the very visible signs of progress, the lawyers representing the families of the victims are concerned about the investigation’s independence following recent political interventions. The interior minister, the prosecutor general and the head of the police decided on 5 February that they were transferring part of the investigation to the police inspectorate, which normally investigates wrongdoing within the police force and which is under the interior minister’s direct control. Kvasnica is also disturbed by the reports that Kuciak was shot by a former police officer after being spied on by former intelligence officers with the help of intelligence from the police. Aged 27, Kuciak had been doing investigative reporting on corruption, tax fraud and links between high-ranking Slovak politicians and the Italian mafia when he and his partner were shot dead in their home near Bratislava on 21 February 2018. February 4, 2021 Find out more News RSF and 60 other organisations call for an EU anti-SLAPP directive December 2, 2020 Find out more
Facebook/Philando Castile(NEW YORK) — Two of the most high-profile cases of police using deadly force in Minnesota history happened roughly 5 miles and four years apart. Each death was captured on video and in front of witnesses, and both prompted protesters to chant the names of the deceased Black men nationwide.While former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted and jailed on Tuesday for murdering George Floyd, former St. Anthony, Minnesota, police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of manslaughter in the 2016 roadside shooting of Philando Castile.Minneapolis attorney Robert Bennett, who represented Castile’s mother in a $3 million wrongful death settlement, told ABC News that the two cases are also similar in the way defense attorneys used toxicology reports in an attempt to undermine the prosecution and argue Floyd and Castile were to blame for their own deaths.But Bennett said the jury is still out on whether the Chauvin guilty verdict on charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter will have implications on other prosecutions of police officers in use-of-force homicide cases.“It shows that the times are changing a bit,” Bennett said. “Although it’s a step, how big the step is will be for others to determine.”Comparing the video evidenceBennett said there were numerous differences between the Floyd and Castile cases, the biggest being that Castile was heard on police dash-cam video telling Yanez he had a concealed gun just seconds before he was shot dead in the driver’s seat of his Oldsmobile after being pulled over for a busted brake light.“That almost immediately puts Philando’s in a different category,” Bennett said.Floyd was unarmed when police removed him from a car and handcuffed him after getting a complaint he allegedly used a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes. Floyd, who refused to get into the back of a police car, was placed prone on the pavement by three officers, including Chauvin, who pressed his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes as the victim cried out he could not breathe, begged for his life, went unconscious and died.Bennett said another major contrast was that video from multiple police body cameras, surveillance cameras and bystander cellphone footage offered jurors an up-close and almost 360-degree view of Floyd’s death and his interactions with officers leading up to his fatal takedown.Yanez was captured from a distance by a police car dash cam firing into Castile’s car, but the footage failed to capture what happened in the vehicle that prompted the officer to resort to deadly force, Bennett said. In the dash-cam video, Yanez is heard yelling, “Don’t pull it out,” before shooting Castile five times.A juror on the Yanez case told Minnesota Public Radio, “It just came down to us not being able to see what was going on in the car.”The witnessesIn the immediate aftermath of the gunfire, Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was in the car with her 4-year-old daughter, posted a Facebook Live video of him bleeding to death and her saying, “He was licensed to carry,” and that he was reaching for his wallet. Speaking to Yanez, who was still pointing his gun at Castile, Reynolds said, “You told him to get his ID.”“You didn’t get to look at Yanez’s face very much,” Bennett said of the dash-cam video. “He didn’t have the nonchalant, ‘I don’t care if I kill you’ look that Chauvin displayed.”He said another salient difference was the witness.“You had Diamond Reynolds who was a witness,” Bennett said, “versus this bouquet of citizen witnesses [in the Chauvin trial] who were of all different genders, different ages, different races, who all came to the same startling conclusion and had the guts to testify on the stand and to take video and remember. All of whom were left marked by what they saw. I think the citizen witnesses convicted him.”During Yanez’s trial, the defense attorney, Earl Gray, sought to discredit Reynolds’ testimony by getting her to admit on the witness stand that she and Castile, who worked as a nutrition services assistant for an elementary school, smoked marijuana daily.Like the Cauvin case, where defense attorney Eric Nelson argued drugs found in Floyd’s system, specifically fentanyl and methamphetamine, influenced his behavior and contributed to his death, Gray used marijuana found in Castile’s system to argue his impairment was to blame for his death, Bennett said.Bennett said another variable was that Yanez testified in his trial while Chauvin invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.“I thought I was going to die,” Yanez testified. “I had no other choice. I was forced to engage Mr. Castile. He was not complying with my directions.”Yanez also broke down in tears on the witness stand, saying his “baby girl” flashed through his mind during the encounter and that it wasn’t his intention to shoot Castile.The jurorsBennett also noted the backgrounds of the Yanez jury, which was comprised of 10 white people and two Black people, most of them, with the exception of a nurse and a wellness coach, were blue-collar workers with little college education. Whereas the Chauvin trial jury — comprised of six people of color and six white members — were mostly college-educated, including a tax auditor, a chemist, a banker, an information technology security manager and a woman with a degree in child psychology.Bennett said the Chauvin jury reminded him of the panel assembled for the 2019 trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor. Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and manslaughter for the 2017 death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, was shot to death after she called 911 to report a possible assault in progress behind her home.Bennett represented Ruszczyk Damond’s family in a wrongful death lawsuit that resulted in a $20 million settlement from the city of Minneapolis, which was the largest payout for a police misconduct case until the city paid Floyd’s loved ones $27 million in March.“The jury in the Mohamed Noor conviction is very much like the Chauvin jury. It was diverse, it was intelligent, it was really very similar. And they took about the same amount of time to come to their verdict,” Bennett said.The Chauvin jury reached its unanimous verdict on Tuesday after just under 10 hours of deliberation.Another significant difference between Chauvin’s trial and that of Yanez was the gavel-to-gavel livestream of the proceedings that Cahill ordered due to COVID-19 precautions limiting the number of people allowed in the courtroom.“The lawyers, by and large, behaved themselves,” Bennett said. “If you’re on camera, you can’t say the same stuff that you say when you’re not on camera it seems to me.”Asked if future prosecutions of police will require the mountain of evidence prosecutors presented in the Chauvin trial to garner a conviction, Bennett said criminal trials, particularly police misconduct trials, are “very idiosyncratic.”“I’ve been doing police-misconduct cases since 1980, and it always took a lot of evidence to even get a verdict in you favor in a plaintiff’s case with a preponderance of the evidence,” Bennett said. “So, it’s certainly a high burden. I know that they got it right in this case. Will they get it right in every other case? I don’t know.”Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
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As the 2015 Pulitzer Prizes were announced last week, Rob Kuznia couldn’t bring himself to watch.“I made a point not to watch the live broadcast on YouTube because I didn’t want to watch myself lose,” Kuznia said.The journalist turned publicist was nominated for a local reporting prize for his work at the Torrance-based Daily Breeze. No longer in reporting, gaining a win was the last thing he expected.But he soon got a call from his editor, Frank Suraci, telling him that they had won.“We were speechless,” he said. “We were just repeating the same thing, which was, ‘I can’t believe this!’ We were pretty inarticulate for a few minutes and then began a day of celebration.”Kuznia and Suraci, as well as fellow reporter Rebecca Kimitch, were also awarded a Scripps Howard Award for Community Journalism before the Pulitzer. Their investigative series, entitled “Centinela: Manipulation, Intimidation and Corruption,” covered wrongdoing within the school district.“It wasn’t until we won the Scripps Howard Award that it sort of dawned on me that [the Pulitzer] was a real possibility,” Kuznia said. “It felt like a long shot to me, so I took it as flattery and left it at that.”The articles covered Superintendent Jose Fernandez’s pay, which was $663,000, as well as other benefits from the district. It led to backlash from the public, a police investigation of Fernandez and his firing. Spending issues throughout the district were also uncovered during the investigation.“Right away, it created a firestorm,” Kuznia said. “A lot of parents, families and students who are living paycheck-to-paycheck came to [board meetings] to communicate their extreme disappointment that this school district, which was supposed to be looking out for them, was really looking out for themselves.”Centinela Valley is a small, low-income school district in Los Angeles County. The district’s test scores ranked last of the 80 school districts in the county, Kuznia said.“This is a very indigent population, and here the leader of the district is making almost $1,000,000 in a single year,” he said. “All the while, the school board is cutting programs that benefitted those students and laying off teachers.”Before working for the Daily Breeze, Kuznia studied journalism at the University of Minnesota, and later worked for newspapers in Minnesota and in Oregon before moving to California. He began working as a communications staff member for the Shoah Foundation in August 2014 and, for now, plans to stay.“I’m sort of taking a wait-and-see approach,” Kuznia said. “I’m looking forward to a state of semi-normality again.”