An appeals court has upheld an indictment against police officer Luis Chocobar, modifying the charge to aggravated homicide using a firearm with excessive force while on duty. A 400,000 peso embargo placed on Chocobar was quashed by the court.
Chocobar had previously been indicted for aggravated homicide in a situation of self-defense, and had received support from the government. Sentences can vary from six months to 5 years in prison for both criminal charges.
Security Minister Patricia Bullrich indicated last week that the government was seeking to introduce a new security doctrine and that Chocobar had acted appropriately. Broadly put, that doctrine suggests that police officers are not primarily responsible in cases of violent confrontations. Bullrich today repeated her belief that the Avellaneda police officer “did what he had to do.”
Chocobar shot 18-year-old Juan Pablo Kukoc in December after ordering him to stop while he was running away from the scene of a crime. Seconds earlier, Kukoc had violently assaulted an American tourist, Joseph Wolek, with an underage accomplice. Wolek was stabbed ten times after resisting the robbery and had to be rushed to a hospital in critical condition.
Following appeals from Chocobar’s attorneys, the appeals court ruled today that while there was no clear evidence that Chocobar had sought to kill Kukoc when he fired four shots at him while in pursuit. Kukoc died in hospital four days after after being struck by two bullets. The judges did find that there was reason to believe that Chocobar’s actions were excessive given the situation.
“We reiterate that the shots that were taken when the concrete assault had already ended and without a visible weapon that completely justified them, are an excess, even when the action is in response to a legitimate professional interest” they wrote in the ruling, in reference to the duty that police officers have to act in cases of being witnesses to a crime.
“In this regard we must be absolutely prudent and clear. A police officer has the duty to act and bring an end to the effects of a crime, preventing that his or her life or that of others be put at risk, but the officers cannot step beyond the limits set by the law” the ruling says.
Soon after the ruling came out Bullrich said at the Cabinet retreat in Chapadmalal that “we’re going to continue with the idea that if a police officer defends citizens… there were risks in that situation, a person had been stabbed and almost killed, we are going to continue to think that the police officer did what he had to do.
“We think that go to down to the specific detail as the ruling does, that the officer acted correctly and then committed an excess, we think that is to not be mindful of that moment, of that situation. The police officer prevented other people from being stabbed or injured and he ended the danger that lead to someone being on the verge of being killed by 10 stab wounds. That is our position, we’re going to maintain it.”
Judges Mariano González Palazzo, Julio Marcelo Lucini and Rodolfo Pociello Argerich also noted that the investigation into the events remains open and urged that events be reconstructed with the assistance of forensic specialists.