Yesterday, on 9 September 2020, former head of the Criminal Investigations of the Vetluga Police Department of the Nizhny Novgorod region Anton Merlugov acknowledged the guilt in full scope, declared his readiness to publicly apologize to the victims and compensate for the damage inflicted to them by the police. The former police Captain is charged with torture and battery of two local citizens and with threatening one of them to forge a criminal case for drugs storage if he did not change evidence. Lawyers with the Committee Against Torture are representing the interests of the victims in court.
As we have previously reported, Pavel Yakushev and Ivan Belov from Vetluga claim to have been beaten up by the police officers during apprehension in April 2017, and, in addition, physical violence was applied against Yakushev at the Vetluga Police Department. According to Yakushev, after he was taken to the criminal investigations room, one of the police officers broke his mobile phone and then started to beat Pavel up. Yakushev claims that during his beating materials at hand were used – he was hit by the panel of the desk drawer, as well as with the electrical heater.
“At the department Yakushev was brought for a short period in our officer, room 19 of Criminal Investigations. There I made several blows on the head and body. I cannot tell the exact number, as I did not count these blows. I don’t deny I could also hit him with a desk drawer panel and a heater”, – Anton Merlugov told yesterday during the examination in court.
According to the expert’s conclusion, numerous bodily injuries were registered on Yakushev: two injuries in the parieto-occipital region on the left and in parietal region, a bruise and an extravasation of suprascapular area on the left, extravasations of the iliac region on the left, injury of the third finger of the left hand, injury of the right hand, abrasion of the left knee joint, hemorrhaging under the nail bed and into the soft tissues of the nail bone of the first finger of the right hand.
Ivan Belov was registered with a hematoma and a swell of the soft tissues in the eyelid area, a hematoma in the region of the earflap, a hematoma and a bruise in the area of the back. In addition, according to Ivan, after the police officer hit his face he developed problems with his eyesight. Ophthalmologist diagnosed him with rhegmatogenous detachment of the retina and epiretinal fibrosis.
“Someone shouted “police”, and these people attempted to disappear. I followed one of the runaways, caught up with him after about 300-500 m, apprehended him and hit him 4-5 times on the head and the body, and made one blow with a stick at his back”, – that is how the defendant described his actions with regard to Ivan Belov.
The investigation and the court did not establish Yakushev and Belov’s involvement in the theft. They both participated in the court hearing in the capacity of witnesses. Only the initiator of the night march to the sawmill – he was declared guilty of an attempted theft and sentenced to two hundred and fifty hours of compulsory community service.
On 27 April 2017, the Urensky Investigative Department started pre-investigative check based on the complaint of the citizens from Vetluga against the unlawful actions of the police officers. Different investigators conducted some activities, however, they were obviously insufficient to establish whether the actions of the police officers contained element of crime. With regard to this, the refusals to initiate criminal proceedings issued by the police officers were repeatedly quashed.
The red tape with the complaint of the citizens from Vetluga led to the fact Ivan Belov was questioned by the investigator from Uren only several months after the check commenced, and Pavel Yakushev – nearly a year after. And it happened only after repeated applications of the lawyers with the Committee Against Torture addressed superiors of the regional Investigative Department.
After activation of the investigation, the police officers whom the applicants accuse of the battery, manifested themselves. According to Ivan Belov, on 30 January 2018 two police officers came to his work, and he recognized one of them as head of the local police department Aleksandr Nazarov. As Ivan recalls, the latter started to talk him into changing his complaints against the law-enforcement officers. The victim refused and left, but on the same evening he was apprehended near his house and taken to the Vetluga police department.
The formal pretext of the apprehension was some anonymous woman’s call to the police dispatch center – she claimed that Ivan, allegedly, had drugs on him.
During search of personal belongings of Belov, no illegal items or substances were found. However, according to Belov, head of local Criminal Investigations Anton Merlugov warned him: “Do you realize that it was only the “rehearsal”? Next time it may end differently, next time something will definitely will be found!”
On 9 September, defendant Merlugov confirmed in his testimony that it was he who arranged for an anonymous call, which became a pretext for Belov’s apprehension. In order to do that he came to an acquaintance of his, a woman from the Krasnodar Territory who came to Vetluga for a visit, and took her mobile phone and then just went outside the door. There, as the defendant claims, he met an unknown woman in the street and asked her to call the police for him and she did not refuse.
Ivan perceived this as a real threat by the police officers. He informed the lawyers with the Committee Against Torture about what happened, and on the next day he resigned from his job and left the town.
On the next day, Ivan, together with a lawyer with the Committee Against Torture applied to head of the regional investigative department Andrey Vinogradov. He listened to the applicant attentively and ordered to hand over the material of the check to the proceedings of the first department for major cases investigation of the Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Nizhny Novgorod region.
On 3 March 2018, investigator on major cases of the Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Nizhny Novgorod region Aleksey Shoshin opened a criminal case under item “a” Part 3 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“abuse of office with the use of violence”). Later on, human rights defenders handed over six more complaints from the citizens of the Vetluga district concerning police torture.
And on 14 September 2018, a criminal case was opened based on the fact of threatening Ivan Belov. The investigative authorities qualified actions of Anton Merlugov on arranging a telephone call for the victim’s apprehension and subsequent conversation with him on the subject of changing his testimony under part 1 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“abuse of office”).
On 23 April 2019, Anton Merlugov was charged with a battery and threats of forging a criminal case. On 30 мая 2019, after the indictment was confirmed, the criminal case was submitted to court.
Yesterday, on 9 September 2020, defendant Merlugov acknowledged his guilt of the charged crimes in full scope.
“Anton Merlugov is charged of two official crimes, one of which is grave, and maximum punishment for it is ten years’ prison term. Previously, during the investigation, the defendant did not acknowledge his guilt. He had a theory that Pavel Yakushev, possibly, hit his head himself, and Belov, even if received some injuries, these were caused by lawful actions of the police officer during his apprehension, – lawyer with the Committee Against Torture Vladimir Smirnov comments. – However, by the end of the trial, after the court was presented with unquestionable evidence, Anton Merlugov acknowledged his guilt, and I’m sure, it was not only ethically correct, but also reasonable for him. He also claimed in court that he was ready to publicly apologize to the victims, and the victims already reported that they would be ready to accept these apologies if indeed Anton Merlugov would publicly offer them. I think that all this will be taken into account during the imposition of sentence as mitigating circumstances, and, in the end, the defendant will take punishment, but in a less harsh form”.
During the next court hearing, the parties’ debates will be held, the State Prosecutor will request the term of punishment, and the former police officer who acknowledge his guilt will pronounce his final statement.