Police officers allegedly tasered sleeping migrants, threw stones at one after beating him, and threatened another with a penknife, warning: “today we were nice... but next time”.
Constables Luca Brincat (20) from Qormi, Rica Mifsud Grech (22) from Floriana, and Jurgen Falzon (24) from Sta Venera are alleged to have kidnapped and beaten foreign nationals on at least three occasions.
On Thursday morning, the prosecution detailed the evidence against the trio, who were officers at Ħamrun police station and deny the charges.
Inspector Omar Zammit described how on October 7, he received a report from a female police colleague about crimes allegedly committed by the three officers.
She and two other colleagues gave evidence to an inquiring magistrate about incidents allegedly involving Brincat, Mifsud Grech and Falzon.
The incidents include:
- One officer said he was on night duty with constables Jurgen Falzon and Luca Brincat when they spotted a drunk black man in Marsa, bundled him into a police car and took him to Qormi. The two punched, kicked and flung a stone at him, causing him to cry out in pain, before abandoning him.
- Another officer told the inquiry that he had been on patrol with all three accused when they would look for migrants sleeping outside, and use taser and pepper spray against them. This happened "several times", the officer said.
- Another officer described being on night duty with Brincat and Falzon, when they were called to some trouble at Marsa. Brincat arrested a black man, despite being told he was not the troublemaker. They took him to Qormi, where the two police constables beat and kicked him.
There was also a video presented as evidence that had been shared in a chat group. It showed Brincat with a penknife at Ħamrun station, seated with a black man in front of him.
At one point Brincat is seen making a gesture with the penknife and saying: "today we were nice... but next time”.
When the police tracked down one of the three alleged victims, he described being put in a police car in Marsa when he was drunk, and then being beaten and kicked.
Asked why he did not report the crime, the victim said: “Go to the same station where my aggressors worked? And I would not be believed."
Another victim recalled being taken to Qormi in the dark by three officers, who punched and kicked him.
When they left, he tried to flag down cars for help, but no one stopped.
During searches taser and pepper spray were found in Mifsud Brech's locker and car while a penknife and a taser were found in Brincat's bag.
12.30pm After a final witness gives some testimony that is similar to what we have heard today, the magistrate sets the next sitting for Tuesday. The three will remain on remand until October 20 when a decision is due on whether there is enough evidence to proceed with the case.
Thank you for joining us this morning. We'll have a short summary of today's evidence above shortly.
Third witness testifies
12.26pm Another witness takes the stand. Police sergeant Jeffrey Rizzo was involved in Jurgen Falzon's arrest. The officer searched his room and seized a mobile, which he handed to the court expert. He had no other involvement.
The magistrate points out that he may not have been involved further as he is the brother of the inquiring magistrate in this case, Elaine Mercieca.
'Officers told not to take drunk people to station'
12.24pm Defence lawyer Franco Debono asks whether the witness knows that the accused's superior had told them not to take drunk people to the police station but to another place, even indicating a spot. "No, I’m not aware of that," the police sergeant replies.
12.22pm Defence lawyer Veronique Dalli asks the witness about a claim made by Rica Mifusd Grech about her car and home keys going missing from her locker. Her lawyer also says that Mifsud Grech had reported one of her superiors for a sexist attitude towards her.
'Today we were nice... but next time'
12.20pm There's some more detail now on the footage showing Luca Brincat waving the penknife at one of the victims.
He allegedly told him: "Today we were nice, but next time..."
12.16pm Arrest warrants were issued for the three accused on October 7.
Searching for three victims
12.15pm The witness resumes. She says that besides the man at the police station, officers began to search for the two other victims. One of them lived in Valletta, according to his last registered address. They looked for him in the Marsa community but could not find him.
Throat-slashing gesture with knife
12.12pm Police knew of two victims and also knew which officers were involved in the violence. They also got to know of the footage, we heard about earlier, showing "a dark man, with a gold choker", and Brincat seated opposite, waving a penknife at him.
She indicates a throat-slashing sign with his hand.
Defence lawyer Franco Debono contests this.
"It’s your interpretation," he argues.
The magistrate says that that is how the witness is interpreting the movement she saw on the footage.
Where the story started
12.06pm Another officer, Graziella Buhagiar Muscat takes the witness stand now. She says that on October 3, the professional standards unit of the police received an email from two sergeants, who wanted to talk about their subordinates.
"That's where the story started," she explains.
The sergeants were given an appointment for October 9 but two days before they got a call to say it was a serious case and could not wait.
It concerned officers who were allegedly picking up foreigners, taking them to a place in Qormi, beating them up, and abandoning them.
A report had been made by a police constable. The witness informed police commissioner Angelo Gafa, who involved assistant commissioner Sandro Gatt, assigned the investigation to inspector Joe Mercieca.
The police officers - those who knew about the alleged violence - gave their testimony under oath before the inquiring magistrate
Victims did not go to hospital
12.02pm Defence lawyer Edmond Cuschieri asks about whether the injuries of the victims were certified.
The police say that victims did not go to hospital so they do not know about the nature of the injuries.
It is pointed out that Rica Mifsud Grech was allegedly involved in one of the September incidents and other occasions when she allegedly tasered victims spotted sleeping on the streets.
She was not involved in the penknife incident. There was no taser found in Falzon's possession.
11.59am Defence lawyer Veronique Dalli questions the inspector about this last case. Picking up on the fact that there were no reports made to the police about the victim on the day he was allegedly assaulted.
Dalli asks if he was being investigated for damage at an outlet and whether the owner then chose not to proceed.
Inspector Zammit says that all he knows is that the man was treated in hospital.
Third victim taken to Qormi
11.57am The third victim was tracked down too. He recalled being taken to Qormi in the dark by three officers, who punched and kicked him. One was stout and had a beard, the woman was young.
They abandoned him on the site. He managed to walk to the main road and tried to flag down cars for help but no one stopped.
Police also checked any reports logged on the police system on the dates. But there were no reports on that day.
Bodycams reveal another incident
11.50am Police examined the bodycams of the officers. Brincat's bodycam showed that on September 13 there was another alleged beating. The victim had told a sergeant at Ħamrun police station about this. It was recorded on Brincat’s bodycam. The footage showed Jurgen, Luca and Ryan come out of the police car with a foreign national.
He had been arrested over harassing a woman. Lydon said that upon arrest Brincat had suggested to Falzon taking the man to Qormi. Falzon retorted “as if. It’s still light.” Falzon pushed and elbowed the man. He was ultimately repatriated to Bulgaria.
Victim: 'I would not be believed'
11.48am One of the victims told police that he was drunk when he was put in a police car. It was dark but it was somewhere in Marsa. The police beat him, punched and kicked him. One of them was well-built and with a beard. The other was slight in stature.
Lydon was the driver and he did not beat him. He knew Lydon as an officer who did community police work. When the victim was asked why he did not report, he said: “Go to the same station where my aggressors worked? And I would not be believed."
Footage from a farmhouse
11.45am An inspector went to the site of the alleged beatings at Qormi valley. At the area known as Tas-Slabeb. One of the police constables who filed the report told police that that was the spot. An expert was tasked to collect footage from a nearby farmhouse.
11.44am Police started looking for the victims. One of them was at Corradino Correctional Facility, where he was serving time after a conviction in September.
11.42am Falzon was arrested at home. There was nothing found during searches of his bedroom and car. All three officers' phones were handed to a court expert.
Video seized, taser and pepper spray found
11.39am The inquiring magistrate ordered the seizure of all footage. Police also found a taser in Mifsud Grech's locker and pepper spray in the glove compartment of her car. Brincat's personal bag contained another taser torch and a penknife. Another search in his locker and car yielded nothing.
Video shows Brincat threaten victim with knife
11.36am One of the testifying officers, Lydon, showed the magisterial inquiry a video shared in chat. It showed Brincat with a penknife, seated at a table at Ħamrun station, with a dark-skinned man seated before him. Brincat tells him to promise not to cause further trouble. Then, he draws the penknife and makes a slashing sign across the neck, threatening the victim, seated with his back to the camera, unless he refrained from further trouble.
Arrested migrant 'who was not the trouble-maker'
11.30am Another officer said that in September while on night duty she went with the accused on night patrol. They headed to Triq is-Serkin in Marsa. There was a group of Maltese waiting for them. One of the Maltese told Brincat to "get rid of a dark-skinned man who was pestering them". He arrested a man despite being told it was not the troublemaker. Leave it to me, he told the Maltese group.
They headed to Qormi valley, all dark, and Brincat and Falzon began to beat and kick him. Again they wanted their colleague to switch off the bodycam but she refused.
'Taser sleeping migrants'
11.28am Another officer gave evidence at the magisterial inquiry. He said that he was present several times when the three accused would look for migrants sleeping outside and apply taser and pepper spray against them.
'They flung a stone at him'
11.24am Three police officers reported the case. One of them, an officer named Lydon, gave evidence at a magisterial inquiry. He described how he was on night duty with police constables Jurgan Falzon and Luca Brincat.
They spotted a male in Marsa who was drunk and "kicking up some fuss". Falzon and Brincat got out of the car and slammed the guy in on the car roof. They searched him, handcuffed him and bundled him inside the police car.
Brincat told the other officer, who reported the case, to remove the bodycam but he refused. They drove to Qormi valley, got out and Falzon and Brincat began to kick and punch the man, foreigner. At one point, they flung a stone in the direction of the victim. Lydon heard the man cry out in pain. Then they left.
The police station in Ħamrun, where the officers were stationed. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli
Police officer's concerns
11.18am Inspector Omar Zammit is taking the witness stand today. He’s from the domestic violence unit. On Friday October 7 they got a report from a female police constable about crimes allegedly committed by her colleagues at the Ħamrun police station. They allegedly beat foreigners. She said she had confided with two other colleagues about the alleged crimes.
Court calls the case
11.04am The three officers - Luca Brincat, Rica Mifsud Grech and Jurgen Falzon - are escorted to the courtroom from the lock-up. There are almost two rows of benches filled with the relatives of the accused.
Magistrate Joe Mifsud is presiding over the case.
Defence lawyers are Veronique Dalli and Dean Hili for Mifsud Grech; Edmond Cuschieri for Falzon; and Franco Debono and Francesca Zarb for Brincat.
Inspectors Omar Zammit and Joseph Mercieca are for the prosecution. They are assisted by Anthony Vella and Kaylie Bonnett, lawyers for the Attorney General.