In September 2020 it became known that police officers from Mülheim/Ruhr shared right-wing extremist content via a messenger service. Almost half of the police officers are now back on duty. FOCUS online spoke to the defense of the Mülheim police, Michael Emde.

In the scandal surrounding right-wing extremist chats at the Mülheim/Ruhr police station and in Essen, 21 of the 44 officers are back on duty. As a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said on request, 20 police officers are currently still suspended. A colleague has now been dismissed at his own request, it said. Two others are retired.

After the end of the criminal investigation, 17 disciplinary proceedings have so far been discontinued. An investigation is still ongoing. “In all other cases, there was either no reason for removal from the service or the disciplinary proceedings are still pending,” the statement said.

A number of officials had posted pictures of Hitler and racist caricatures of the worst kind in closed WhatsApp groups such as “Alphateam” or “Kunta Kinte”. For example, one picture shows an Arab man stuck in a gas chamber. Investigations in the complex revealed that the majority of chat participants had only received these files. However, they did not feel compelled to report these incidents.

According to the responsible public prosecutor’s office in Duisburg, ten preliminary investigations have now been discontinued. For formal legal reasons: for a verdict of incitement to hatred or the use of signs of unconstitutional organizations, these right-wing extremist files would have had to be widely distributed in public. This was not the case here, reported prosecutor Isabell Booz.

In the case of the “Alphateam” and “Kunta Kinte” chat groups, however, the legal assessment showed “that these were closed chat groups in which there was neither publicity nor dissemination to an unmanageable group of participants.” According to the spokeswoman for the authorities, the chat groups had a maximum of 15 participants, “who all knew each other and were on friendly terms. Nobody had to expect that the shared content would be made accessible to the general public, and the chat participants did not want it to be disseminated either.”

In seven other cases, the accused officials received fines – among other things for violations of the Weapons Act, violation of the most personal sphere of life and personal rights through image recordings and state security offences. Three other cases are still pending in court. Five police officers are still waiting for the investigation to be completed.

A child pornographic file was found on an officer’s cell phone, the spokeswoman continued. Sentenced to a fine in the first instance, the district court acquitted him. The public prosecutor’s office has appealed.

Mr Emde, as an expert in official procedures, you have represented some police officers from right-wing extremist chat groups in Mülheim/Ruhr since autumn 2020, why are these people posting pictures of Hitler, the shooting of Angela Merkel, nasty hate speech or concentration camp caricatures in which Muslims in hike the gas chamber?

First of all, such posts are of course not possible at all. But as a defense attorney, you are also close to the accused officials and experience them in a completely different way. There is a great deal of uncertainty at first, most of the closed WhatsApp chats only received these images and files and did not post them at all. Nevertheless, all chat participants were concerned with their professional existence.

If they are sentenced to imprisonment for a year or more, they must quit their service. In view of the large amounts of data, the procedures dragged on for a long time, and some have not yet been completed. This is very stressful for the police officers.

In these chats, there were a few main characters who threw out such right-wing extremist files, then there is also a large circle of recipients, what drives police officers to circulate such brown ideas?

Apparently, group dynamics played a major role here. At the same time, one has to ask oneself, why is such rubbish still found on mobile phones years later? In the end I can’t explain that.

Only a fraction of the chat officials were convicted, has the rule of law failed?

No, on the contrary. The public prosecutor found that the chat rounds were closed circles. So a limited group of people. In this case, the core allegations such as using symbols of anti-constitutional organizations or hate speech were not applied. For this, these files would have to have been sent to a larger public circle. This was not the case here.

Thus, these main crimes were not charged. Rather, videos showing violence and child pornography material were found on some of the suspected police officers’ cell phones. But especially with the latter finds, it is highly doubtful in my view whether it was actually child pornography.

How so ?

Because most of the recordings had no sexual reference whatsoever. However, the criminal offense presupposes a depiction of children in unnaturally sexual poses. Nevertheless, the civil servant was sentenced to daily rates in the first instance, and we appealed. A verdict is still pending.

Were the criminal proceedings in the complex of right-wing extremist chats at the Mülheim/Ruhr police station fair?

On the whole, yes, after all, a large part has been discontinued. However, prosecutors have made extremely petty decisions in some cases. Especially in the case of state protection offenses such as incitement to hatred or in the field of child pornography, a situation has now been reached where even lawyers are no longer clear whether the material in question is criminal or not.

Called ?

Called. In the case of hate speech in particular, opinions among criminal law experts differ. It often depends on the personal taste of the investigating public prosecutor whether or not to prosecute.

Where does the unpunished gray area begin?

In the chats, for example, an image appeared of an Arab Muslim putting his arm over the shoulder of a fully veiled woman. Next to it is the exact same photo. Then underneath it says: It’s practical if you don’t have to change the picture on your desk after the divorce. The public prosecutor’s office classified this as borderline. One can really argue about taste, but here in these proceedings it is about the criminal liability of these files.

It is not for nothing that the legislature has based the so-called principle of certainty on a conviction. There it says: Every citizen must be able to recognize on the basis of the legal regulations what is punishable and what is not. We have moved away from this principle in these areas. It is now the case that, depending on the judicial district, the prosecuting authorities assess the same facts completely differently. This state of affairs is intolerable.

Does the judiciary react excessively when it comes to child pornography?

It is undisputed that this offense must be prosecuted more severely. In the meantime, however, the legislature has upgraded the possession of child pornographic material to a criminal offense. Minimum sentence one year. As a result, the court can no longer discontinue such proceedings. This circumstance leads to bizarre investigations that make you shake your head. A police officer who met someone through an internet game recently asked me for help.

Messages were exchanged via WhatsApp. Then the officer is sent a child pornographic picture. He goes to the police station and reports the sender. A week later, the policeman gets a call saying he should hand over his cell phone because he is now a suspect in criminal proceedings. After all, he had owned the objectionable picture. That’s absurd.

After a police officer shot dead a 16-year-old Senegalese refugee in Dortmund, the Green Party co-chairman in North Rhine-Westphalia put racist motives into the room. You represent one of the co-accused officials. How do you see the case?

This general suspicion of a racist police force has been rampant for years. In the meantime, the officials see themselves in the pillory because of unfounded allegations of racial profiling when they take action against suspected migrants. This makes it even more difficult for the police officers to do their job properly in view of the increasing problems, especially in hotspot areas of the large metropolises. There was a lot of uncertainty internally.

The police authorities are increasingly lacking the support of larger sections of civil society. Shortly after the death of the Senegalese refugee, demonstrators ran through the neighborhood and denounced the xenophobia of the police. As a defense attorney for the chief of operations, I am familiar with this procedure. So far, there is no evidence of any xenophobic motives on the part of the local officials.

I have already represented clients who were accused of having a racist attitude when they were arrested. The officials had even founded an association against xenophobia. This general suspicion of the police now arises all too often when a measure is taken against an immigrant. It’s not OK.

The professors of criminology, Feltes and Singelnstein, repeatedly warn against police violence and call for external investigators in the event of police attacks. Is their accusation justified?

Especially in the Dortmund case, there are external investigations by the Recklinghausen police. No police authority ever investigates its own officers. For reasons of neutrality, such investigations are always reserved for other authorities.

However, the critics are calling for their own external authority because they do not trust the respective police authorities to investigate objectively.

This is sheer nonsense. Police officers and public prosecutors also investigate in such an external authority. Just like now. I’m amazed that these professors, who didn’t take a look at the investigation files in the Dortmund case, can form an opinion from hearsay. Even the statements that such missions as with the 16-year-old migrant, who was apparently suicidal, could have been ended lightly with a psychologist have nothing to do with practice.

Why not ?

The police on site are initially obliged to react in the course of averting danger – regardless of whether it is a crazy junkie or a mentally conspicuous delinquent. Officers were called by the youth’s caregivers to stop him from pointing a knife at himself. There was no time to call a psychologist or the nearest interpreter who spoke the same language as the youngster.

It would take hours to find such experts. Because no police station holds these experts. Here, however, speed was required in the course of averting danger. The conclusion of the procedure by the public prosecutor’s office must show whether the mission ultimately went wrong.