On the death of Shibane Wague in Vienna

Severe criticisms of police and rescue services in the wake of the death of Shibane Wague

20.Jul.03 - The autopsy of Shibane Wague, a 33-year old man from Mauritania, who died in police custody on 15 July 2003, has declared an ambiguous cause of death: "heart failure".

The police and the court have agreed provisionally on this term, while waiting for further clarification. Karl Heinz Ruisz, of the Central-East Vienna Criminal Commisariat explained, on Friday, 18 July, that, "a written autopsy report is not present, and subsequent investigations by court medical examiners will take two more weeks."

After Shibane Wague's death in the African Cultural Village within the Vienna city park, severe criticisms of the emergency medical services on the scene have come to light. On a video, referenced by the city newspaper, "Falter," it is clear that Shibane Wage lay motionless on the ground for at least five minutes, before being transferred into an ambulance. The police present performed no first aid.

Those accused - by their own confession - of not having begun rescuscitation until Shibane Wague was in the ambulance, were suspended from duty on Friday, 18 July.

The six-minute shaky video referenced by "Falter" shows the following scenes:

The medics are shown standing around the man. The responsible physician is also shown standing there, "with his hands in his pockets," giving no medical assisance. An editor of the newspaper reported, "Later, the body even fell from the stretcher."

The duty of the court medical examiners' follow-up investigation is now to clarify: can the neuroleptic drug Haldol, which was given to Shibane Wague, in connection with heart disease, have caused his death? Did the circumstances all together create a deadly stress on his heart? It also remains to be shown whether Shibane Wague was under the influence of drugs.

According to eyewitnesses, Shibane Wague was severely beaten on the back of his head by police officers in the course of his arrest. For the time being, these accusations will only be considered by an internal investigation within the police force. The public prosecutor's office expects an eventual report of the circumstances of Shibane Wague's arrest.

The chief physician of the Vienna rescue squad, Dr. Alfred Kaff, suspended the medical personnel involved in the incident, due to inconsistencies and contradictions in their statements. Until the matter can be cleared up, the employees concerned have been relieved of their duties. Based on the information available at present, the public prosecutor's office opened an investigation and launched an internal probe of the municipal authorities.

After the death of Marcus Omofuma, the Vienna court medical examiners also declared "heart failure" as the probable cause of death. However, a German consultant's examination later showed that the Nigerian man had been suffocated. Marcus Omofuma was killed on 1 May 1999 during his deportation, after he had been bound and kneeled upon by three policemen. The officers involved were condemned, in April 2002, to eight months' probation each, for criminal negligence in the death of Marcus Omofuma.

(Sources, "Der Standard," derstandard.at, "Orf," orf.at)

In Vienna some antiracist demonstrations took place after the death of Shibane Wague. On July 25 2003 in Vienna there will be a big antiracist demonstration.

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